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Title: Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965

Author: Morris J. MacGregor Jr.

Release Date: February 15, 2007 [EBook #20587]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


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[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, author's spelling has been retained.]




by Morris J. MacGregor, Jr.


Military Instruction


Defense Historical Studies Committee
(as of 6 April 1979)

Alfred Goldberg
Office of the Secretary of Defense
Robert J. Watson
Historical Division, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Brig. Gen. James L. Collins, Jr.
Chief of Military History
Maj. Gen. John W. Huston
Chief of Air Force History
Maurice Matloff
Center of Military History
Stanley L. Falk
Office of Air Force History
Rear Adm. John D. H. Kane, Jr.
Director of Naval History
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Edwin H. Simmons
Director of Marine Corps History and Museums
Dean C. Allard
Naval Historical Center
Henry J. Shaw, Jr.
Marine Corps Historical Center

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

MacGregor, Morris J
Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965.

(Defense studies series)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Supt. of Docs. no.: D 114.2:In 8/940-65
1. Afro-American soldiers. 2. United States—

Race Relations.
I. Title.
II. Series.

Department of the Army
Historical Advisory Committee

(as of 6 April 1979)

Otis A. Singletary
University of Kentucky
Maj. Gen. Robert C. Hixon
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command
Brig. Gen. Robert Arter
U.S. Army Command and
General Staff College
Sara D. Jackson
National Historical Publications
and Records Commission
Harry L. Coles
Ohio State University
Maj. Gen. Enrique Mendez, Jr.
Deputy Surgeon General, USA
Robert H. Ferrell
Indiana University
James O'Neill
Deputy Archivist of the United States
Cyrus H. Fraker
The Adjutant General Center
Benjamin Quarles
Morgan State College
William H. Goetzmann
University of Texas
Brig. Gen. Alfred L. Sanderson
Army War College
Col. Thomas E. Griess
U.S. Military Academy
Russell F. Weigley
Temple University


The integration of the armed forces was a momentous event in our military and national history; it represented a milestone in the development of the armed forces and the fulfillment of the democratic ideal. The existence of integrated rather than segregated armed forces is an important factor in our military establishment today. The experiences in World War II and the postwar pressures generated by the civil rights movement compelled all the services—Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps—to reexamine their traditional practices of segregation. While there were differences in the ways that the services moved toward integration, all were subject to the same demands, fears, and prejudices and had the same need to use their resources in a more rational and economical way. All of them reached the same conclusion: traditional attitudes toward minorities must give way to democratic concepts of civil rights.

If the integration of the armed services now seems to have been inevitable in a democratic society, it nevertheless faced opposition that had to be overcome and problems that had to be solved through the combined efforts of political and civil rights leaders and civil and military officials. In many ways the military services were at the cutting edge in the struggle for racial equality. This volume sets forth the successive measures they and the Office of the Secretary of Defense took to meet the challenges of a new era in a critically important area of human relationships, during a period of transition that saw the advance of blacks in the social and economic order as well as in the military. It is fitting that this story should be told in the first volume of a new Defense Studies Series.

The Defense Historical Studies Program was authorized by the then Deputy Secretary of Defense, Cyrus Vance, in April 1965. It is conducted under the auspices of the Defense Historical Studies Group, an ad hoc body chaired by the Historian of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and consisting of the senior officials in the historical offices of the services and of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Volumes produced under its sponsorship will be interservice histories, covering matters of mutual interest to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The preparation of each volume is entrusted to one of the service historical sections, in this case the Army's Center of Military History. Although the book was written by an Army historian, he was generously given access to the pertinent records of the other services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and this initial volume in the Defense Studies Series covers the experiences of all components of the Department of Defense in achieving integration.

Washington, D.C.
14 March 1980
James L. Collins, Jr.
Brigadier General, USA
Chief of Military History

The Author

Morris J. MacGregor, Jr., received the A.B. and M.A. degrees in history from the Catholic University of America. He continued his graduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Paris on a Fulbright grant. Before joining the staff of the U.S. Army Center of Military History in 1968 he served for ten years in the Historical Division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has written several studies for military publications including "Armed Forces Integration—Forced or Free?" in The Military and Society: Proceedings of the Fifth Military Symposium of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is the coeditor with Bernard C. Nalty of the thirteen-volume Blacks in the United States Armed Forces: Basic Documents and with Ronald Spector of Voices of History: Interpretations in American Military History. He is currently working on a sequel to Integration of the Armed Forces which will also appear in the Defense Studies Series.


(p. ix)

This book describes the fall of the legal, administrative, and social barriers to the black American's full participation in the military service of his country. It follows the changing status of the black serviceman from the eve of World War II, when he was excluded from many military activities and rigidly segregated in the rest, to that period a quarter of a century later when the Department of Defense extended its protection of his rights and privileges even to the civilian community. To round out the story of open housing for members of the military, I briefly overstep the closing date given in the title.

The work is essentially an administrative history that attempts to measure the influence of several forces, most notably the civil rights movement, the tradition of segregated service, and the changing concept of military efficiency, on the development of racial policies in the armed forces. It is not a history of all minorities in the services. Nor is it an account of how the black American responded to discrimination. A study of racial attitudes, both black and white, in the military services would be a valuable addition to human knowledge, but practically impossible of accomplishment in the absence of sufficient autobiographical accounts, oral history interviews, and detailed sociological measurements. How did the serviceman view his condition, how did he convey his desire for redress, and what was his reaction to social change? Even now the answers to these questions are blurred by time and distorted by emotions engendered by the civil rights revolution. Few citizens, black or white, who witnessed it can claim immunity to the influence of that paramount social phenomenon of our times.

At times I do generalize on the attitudes of both black and white servicemen and the black and white communities at large as well. But I have permitted myself to do so only when these attitudes were clearly pertinent to changes in the services' racial policies and only when the written record supported, or at least did not contradict, the memory of those participants who had been interviewed. In any case this study is largely history written from the top down and is based primarily on the written records left by the administrations of five presidents and by civil rights leaders, service officials, and the press.

Many of the attitudes and expressions voiced by the participants in the story are now out of fashion. The reader must be constantly on guard against viewing the beliefs and statements of many civilian and military officials out of context of the times in which they were expressed. Neither bigotry nor stupidity was the monopoly of some of the people quoted; their statements are important for what they tell us about certain attitudes of our society rather than for what they reveal (p. x) about any individual. If the methods or attitudes of some of the black spokesmen appear excessively tame to those who have lived through the 1960's, they too should be gauged in the context of the times. If their statements and actions shunned what now seems the more desirable, albeit radical, course, it should be given them that the style they adopted appeared in those days to be the most promising for racial progress.

The words black and Negro have been used interchangeably in the book, with Negro generally as a noun and black as an adjective. Aware of differing preferences in the black community for usage of these words, the author was interested in comments from early readers of the manuscript. Some of the participants in the story strongly objected to one word or the other. "Do me one favor in return for my help," Lt. Comdr. Dennis D. Nelson said, "never call me a black." Rear Adm. Gerald E. Thomas, on the other hand, suggested that the use of the term Negro might repel readers with much to learn about their recent past. Still others thought that the historian should respect the usage of the various periods covered in the story, a solution that would have left the volume with the term colored for most of the earlier chapters and Negro for much of the rest. With rare exception, the term black does not appear in twentieth century military records before the late 1960's. Fashions in words change, and it is only for the time being perhaps that black and Negro symbolize different attitudes. The author has used the words as synonyms and trusts that the reader will accept them as such. Professor John Hope Franklin, Mrs. Sara Jackson of the National Archives, and the historians and officials that constituted the review panel went along with this approach.

The second question of usage concerns the words integration and desegregation. In recent years many historians have come to distinguish between these like-sounding words. Desegregation they see as a direct action against segregation; that is, it signifies the act of removing legal barriers to the equal treatment of black citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution. The movement toward desegregation, breaking down the nation's Jim Crow system, became increasingly popular in the decade after World War II. Integration, on the other hand, Professor Oscar Handlin maintains, implies several things not yet necessarily accepted in all areas of American society. In one sense it refers to the "leveling of all barriers to association other than those based on ability, taste, and personal preference";[1] in other words, providing equal opportunity. But in another sense integration calls for the random distribution of a minority throughout society. Here, according to Handlin, the emphasis is on racial balance in areas of occupation, education, residency, and the like.

From the beginning the military establishment rightly understood that the breakup of the all-black unit would in a closed society necessarily mean more than mere desegregation. It constantly used the terms integration and equal treatment and opportunity to describe its racial goals. Rarely, if ever, does one find the word desegregation in military files that include much correspondence from (p. xi) the various civil rights organizations. That the military made the right choice, this study seems to demonstrate, for the racial goals of the Defense Department, as they slowly took form over a quarter of a century, fulfilled both of Professor Handlin's definitions of integration.

The mid-1960's saw the end of a long and important era in the racial history of the armed forces. Although the services continued to encounter racial problems, these problems differed radically in several essentials from those of the integration period considered in this volume. Yet there is a continuity to the story of race relations, and one can hope that the story of how an earlier generation struggled so that black men and women might serve their country in freedom inspires those in the services who continue to fight discrimination.

This study benefited greatly from the assistance of a large number of persons during its long years of preparation. Stetson Conn, chief historian of the Army, proposed the book as an interservice project. His successor, Maurice Matloff, forced to deal with the complexities of an interservice project, successfully guided the manuscript through to publication. The work was carried out under the general supervision of Robert R. Smith, chief of the General History Branch. He and Robert W. Coakley, deputy chief historian of the Army, were the primary reviewers of the manuscript, and its final form owes much to their advice and attention. The author also profited greatly from the advice of the official review panel, which, under the chairmanship of Alfred Goldberg, historian, Office of the Secretary of Defense, included Martin Blumenson; General J. Lawton Collins (USA Ret.); Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (USAF Ret.); Roy K. Davenport, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army; Stanley L. Falk, chief historian of the Air Force; Vice Adm. E. B. Hooper, Chief of Naval History; Professor Benjamin Quarles; Paul J. Scheips, historian, Center of Military History; Henry I. Shaw, chief historian of the U.S. Marine Corps; Loretto C. Stevens, senior editor of the Center of Military History; Robert J. Watson, chief historian of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Adam Yarmolinsky, former assistant to the Secretary of Defense.

Many of the participants in this story generously shared their knowledge with me and kindly reviewed my efforts. My footnotes acknowledge my debt to them. Nevertheless, two are singled out here for special mention. James C. Evans, former counselor to the Secretary of Defense for racial affairs, has been an endless source of information on race relations in the military. If I sometimes disagreed with his interpretations and assessments, I never doubted his total dedication to the cause of the black serviceman. I owe a similar debt to Lt. Comdr. Dennis D. Nelson (USN Ret.) for sharing his intimate understanding of race relations in the Navy. A resourceful man with a sure social touch, he must have been one hell of a sailor.

I want to note the special contribution of several historians. Martin Blumenson was first assigned to this project, and before leaving the Center of Military History he assembled research material that proved most helpful. My former colleague John Bernard Corr prepared a study on the National Guard upon which my account of the guard is based. In addition, he patiently reviewed many pages of (p. xii) the draft manuscript. His keen insights and sensitive understanding were invaluable to me. Professors Jack D. Foner and Marie Carolyn Klinkhammer provided particularly helpful suggestions in conjunction with their reviews of the manuscript. Samuel B. Warner, who before his untimely death was a historian in the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as a colleague of Lee Nichols on some of that reporter's civil rights investigations, also contributed generously of his talents and lent his support in the early days of my work. Finally, I am grateful for the advice of my colleague Ronald H. Spector at several key points in the preparation of this history.

I have received much help from archivists and librarians, especially the resourceful William H. Cunliffe and Lois Aldridge (now retired) of the National Archives and Dean C. Allard of the Naval Historical Center. Although the fruits of their scholarship appear often in my footnotes, three fellow researchers in the field deserve special mention: Maj. Alan M. Osur and Lt. Col. Alan L. Gropman of the U.S. Air Force and Ralph W. Donnelly, former member of the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center. I have benefited from our exchange of ideas and have had the advantage of their reviews of the manuscript.

I am especially grateful for the generous assistance of my editors, Loretto C. Stevens and Barbara H. Gilbert. They have been both friends and teachers. In the same vein, I wish to thank John Elsberg for his editorial counsel. I also appreciate the help given by William G. Bell in the selection of the illustrations, including the loan of two rare items from his personal collection, and Arthur S. Hardyman for preparing the pictures for publication. I would like to thank Mary Lee Treadway and Wyvetra B. Yeldell for preparing the manuscript for panel review and Terrence J. Gough for his helpful pre-publication review.

Finally, while no friend or relative was spared in the long years I worked on this book, three colleagues especially bore with me through days of doubts and frustrations and shared my small triumphs: Alfred M. Beck, Ernest F. Fisher, Jr., and Paul J. Scheips. I also want particularly to thank Col. James W. Dunn. I only hope that some of their good sense and sunny optimism show through these pages.

Washington, D.C.
14 March 1980
Morris J. MacGregor, Jr.


(p. xiii)


The Armed forces Before 1940
Civil Rights and the Law in 1940
To Segregate Is To Discriminate
A War Policy: Reaffirming Segregation
Segregation and Efficiency
The Need for Change
Internal Reform: Amending Racial Practices
Two Exceptions
Development of a Wartime Policy
A Segregated Navy
Progressive Experiments
Forrestal Takes the Helm
The First Black Marines
New Roles for Black Coast Guardsmen
Black Demands
The Army's Grand Review
The Navy's Informal Inspection
The Gillem Board Report
Integration of the General Service
The Marine Corps
The Quota in Practice
Broader Opportunities
A New Approach
The Quota System: An Assessment
Discipline and Morale Among Black Troops
Improving the Status of the Segregated Soldier
(p. xiv) Discrimination and the Postwar Army
Segregation in Theory and Practice
Segregation: An Assessment
The Steward's Branch
Black Officers
Public Image and the Problem of Numbers
Racial Quotas and Assignments
Segregation and Efficiency
Toward Integration
Segregation and Efficiency
Impulse for Change
The Truman Administration and Civil Rights
Civil Rights and the Department of Defense
Executive Order 9981
Public Reaction to Executive Order 9981
The Army: Segregation on the Defensive
A Different Approach
The Navy: Business as Usual
Adjustments in the Marine Corps
The Air Force Plans for Limited Integration
The Committee's Recommendations
A Summer of Discontent
An Assessment
Overseas Restrictions
Congressional Concerns
The Air Force, 1949-1951
The Navy and Executive Order 9981
Race and Efficiency: 1950
Performance of Segregated Units
Final Arguments
Integration of the Eighth Army
(p. xv) Integration of the European and Continental Commands
Impetus for Change
The Civil Rights Revolution
Limitations on Executive Order 9981
Integration of Navy Shipyards
Dependent Children and Integrated Schools
The Kennedy Administration and Civil Rights
The Department of Defense, 1961-1963
Discrimination Off the Military Reservation
Reserves and Regulars: A Comparison
The Secretary Makes a Decision
The Gesell Committee
Reaction to a New Commitment
The Gesell Committee: Final Report
Creating a Civil Rights Apparatus
Fighting Discrimination Within the Services
Development of Voluntary Action Programs
Civil Rights, 1964-1966
The Civil Rights Act and Voluntary Compliance
The Limits of Voluntary Compliance
Why the Services Integrated
How the Services Integrated, 1946-1954
Equal Treatment and Opportunity


Crewmen of the USS Miami During the Civil War
Buffalo Soldiers
Integration in the Army of 1888
(p. xvi) Gunner's Gang on the USS Maine
General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing Inspects Troops
Heroes of the 369th Infantry, February 1919
Judge William H. Hastie
General George C. Marshall and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson
Engineer Construction Troops in Liberia, July 1942
Labor Battalion Troops in the Aleutian Islands, May 1943
Sergeant Addressing the Line
Pilots of the 332d Fighter Group
Service Club, Fort Huachuca
93d Division Troops in Bougainville, April 1944
Gun Crew of Battery B, 598th Field Artillery, September 1944
Tankers of the 761st Medium Tank Battalion Prepare for Action
WAAC Replacements
Volunteers for Combat in Training
Road Repairmen
Mess Attendant, First Class, Dorie Miller Addressing Recruits at Camp Smalls
Admiral Ernest J. King and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox
Crew Members of USS Argonaut, Pearl Harbor, 1942
Messmen Volunteer as Gunners, July 1942
Electrician Mates String Power Lines
Laborers at Naval Ammunition Depot
Seabees in the South Pacific
Lt. Comdr. Christopher S. Sargent
USS Mason
First Black Officers in the Navy
Lt. (jg.) Harriet Ida Pickens and Ens. Frances Wills
Sailors in the General Service
Security Watch in the Marianas
Specialists Repair Aircraft
The 22d Special Construction Battalion Celebrates V-J Day
Marines of the 51st Defense Battalion, Montford Point, 1942
Shore Party in Training, Camp Lejeune, 1942
D-day on Peleliu
Medical Attendants at Rest, Peleliu, October 1944
Gun Crew of the 52d Defense Battalion
Crewmen of USCG Lifeboat Station, Pea Island, North Carolina
Coast Guard Recruits at Manhattan Beach Training Station, New York
Stewards at Battle Station on the Cutter Campbell
Shore Leave in Scotland
Lt. Comdr. Carlton Skinner and Crew of the USS Sea Cloud
Ens. Joseph J. Jenkins and Lt. (jg.) Clarence Samuels
President Harry S. Truman Addressing the NAACP Convention
Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy
(p. xvii) Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War Truman K. Gibson
Company I, 370th Infantry, 92d Division, Advances Through Cascina, Italy
92d Division Engineers Prepare a Ford for Arno River Traffic
Lester Granger Interviewing Sailors
Granger With Crewmen of a Naval Yard Craft
Lt. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, U.S. Army
Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson
Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, U.S. Navy
General Gerald C. Thomas, U.S. Marine Corps
Lt. Gen. Willard S. Paul
Adviser to the Secretary of War Marcus Ray
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger Inspects 24th Infantry Troops
Army Specialists Report for Airborne Training
Bridge Players, Seaview Service Club, Tokyo, Japan, 1948
24th Infantry Band, Gifu, Japan, 1947
Lt. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner Inspects the 529th Military Police Company
Reporting to Kitzingen
Inspection by the Chief of Staff
Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.
Shore Leave in Korea
Mess Attendants, USS Bushnell, 1918
Mess Attendants, USS Wisconsin, 1953
Lt. Comdr. Dennis D. Nelson II
Naval Unit Passes in Review, Naval Advanced Base, Bremerhaven, Germany
Marine Artillery Team
2d Lt. and Mrs. Frederick C. Branch
Training Exercises
Damage Inspection
Col. Noel F. Parrish
Officers' Softball Team
Checking Ammunition
Squadron F, 318th AAF Battalion, in Review
Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Commander, 477th Composite Group, 1945
Lt. Gen. Idwal H. Edwards
Col. Jack F. Marr
Walter F. White
Truman's Civil Rights Campaign
A. Philip Randolph
National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs, 26 April 1948
MP's Hitch a Ride
Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall Reviews Military Police Battalion
Spring Formal Dance, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, 1952
Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal
(p. xviii) General Clifton B. Cates
1st Marine Division Drill Team on Exhibition
Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington
Secretary of Defense Louis C. Johnson
Fahy Committee With President Truman and Armed Services Secretaries
E. W. Kenworthy
Charles Fahy
Roy K. Davenport
Press Notice
Secretary of the Army Gordon Gray
Chief of Staff of the Army J. Lawton Collins
"No Longer a Dream"
Navy Corpsman in Korea
25th Division Troops in Japan
Assistant Secretary of Defense Anna M. Rosenberg
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert
Music Makers
Maintenance Crew, 462d Strategic Fighter Squadron
Jet Mechanics
Christmas in Korea, 1950
Rearming at Sea
Broadening Skills
Integrated Stewards Class Graduates, Great Lakes, 1953
WAVE Recruits, Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Maryland, 1953
Rear Adm. Samuel L. Gravely, Jr.
Moving Up
Men of Battery A, 159th Field Artillery Battalion
Survivors of an Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, 24th Infantry
General Matthew B. Ridgway, Far East Commander
Machine Gunners of Company L, 14th Infantry, Hill 931, Korea
Color Guard, 160th Infantry, Korea, 1952
Visit With the Commander
Brothers Under the Skin
Marines on the Kansas Line, Korea
Marine Reinforcements
Training Exercises on Iwo Jima, March 1954
Marines From Camp Lejeune
Lt. Col. Frank E. Petersen, Jr.
Sergeant Major Edgar R. Huff
Clarence Mitchell
Congressman Adam Clayton Powell
Secretary of the Navy Robert B. Anderson
Reading Class in the Military Dependents School, Yokohama
Civil Rights Leaders at the White House
(p. xix) President John F. Kennedy and President Jorge Allessandri
Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara
Adam Yarmolinsky
James C. Evans
The Gesell Committee Meets With the President
Alfred B. Fitt
Arriving in Vietnam
Digging In
Listening to the Squad Leader
Supplying the Seventh Fleet
USAF Ground Crew, Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam
Fighter Pilots on the Line
Medical Examination
Auto Pilot Shop
Submarine Tender Duty
First Aid
Vietnam Patrol
Marine Engineers in Vietnam
Loading a Rocket Launcher
American Sailors Help Evacuate a Vietnamese Child
Booby Trap Victim from Company B, 47th Infantry

All illustrations are from the files of the Department of Defense and the National Archives and Records Service with the exception of the pictures on pages 6 and 10, courtesy of William G. Bell; on page 20, by Fabian Bachrach, courtesy of Judge William H. Hastie; on page 120, courtesy of Carlton Skinner; on page 297, courtesy of the Washington Star, on page 361, courtesy of the Afro-American Newspapers; on page 377, courtesy of the Sengstacke Newspapers; and on page 475, courtesy of the Washington Bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.



 1. Classification of All Men Tested From March 1941 Through December 1942
 2. AGCT Percentages in Selected World War II Divisions
 3. Percentage of Black Enlisted Men and Women
 4. Disposition of Black Personnel at Eight Air Force Bases, 1949
 5. Racial Composition of Air Force Units
 6. Black Strength in the Air Force
 7. Racial Composition of the Training Command, December 1949
(p. xx)  8. Black Manpower, U.S. Navy
 9. Worldwide Distribution of Enlisted Personnel by Race, October 1952
10. Distribution of Black Enlisted Personnel by Branch and Rank, 31 October 1952
11. Black Marines, 1949-1955
12. Defense Installations With Segregated Public Schools
13. Black Strength in the Armed Forces for Selected Years
14. Estimated Percentage Distribution of Draft-Age Males in U.S. Population by AFQT Groups
15. Rate of Men Disqualified for Service in 1962
16. Rejection Rates for Failure To Pass Armed Forces Mental Test, 1962
17. Nonwhite Inductions and First Enlistments, Fiscal Years 1953-1962
18. Distribution of Enlisted Personnel in Each Major Occupation, 1956
19. Occupational Group Distribution by Race, All DOD, 1962
20. Occupational Group Distribution of Enlisted Personnel by Length of Service, and Race
21. Percentage Distribution of Navy Enlisted Personnel by Race, AFQT Groups and Occupational Areas, and Length of Service, 1962
22. Percentage Distribution of Blacks and Whites by Pay Grade, All DOD, 1962
23. Percentage Distribution of Navy Enlisted Personnel by Race, AFQT Groups, Pay Grade, and Length of Service, 1962
24. Black Percentages, 1962-1968
25. Rates for First Reenlistments, 1964-1967
26. Black Attendance at the Military Academies, July 1968
27. Army and Air Force Commissions Granted at Predominately Black Schools
28. Percentage of Negroes in Certain Military Ranks, 1964-1966
29. Distribution of Servicemen in Occupational Groups by Race, 1967


CHAPTER 1 (p. 003)


In the quarter century that followed American entry into World War II, the nation's armed forces moved from the reluctant inclusion of a few segregated Negroes to their routine acceptance in a racially integrated military establishment. Nor was this change confined to military installations. By the time it was over, the armed forces had redefined their traditional obligation for the welfare of their members to include a promise of equal treatment for black servicemen wherever they might be. In the name of equality of treatment and opportunity, the Department of Defense began to challenge racial injustices deeply rooted in American society.

For all its sweeping implications, equality in the armed forces obviously had its pragmatic aspects. In one sense it was a practical answer to pressing political problems that had plagued several national administrations. In another, it was the services' expression of those liberalizing tendencies that were permeating American society during the era of civil rights activism. But to a considerable extent the policy of racial equality that evolved in this quarter century was also a response to the need for military efficiency. So easy did it become to demonstrate the connection between inefficiency and discrimination that, even when other reasons existed, military efficiency was the one most often evoked by defense officials to justify a change in racial policy.

The Armed Forces Before 1940

Progress toward equal treatment and opportunity in the armed forces was an uneven process, the result of sporadic and sometimes conflicting pressures derived from such constants in American society as prejudice and idealism and spurred by a chronic shortage of military manpower. In his pioneering study of race relations, Gunnar Myrdal observes that ideals have always played a dominant role in the social dynamics of America.[1-1] By extension, the ideals that helped involve the nation in many of its wars also helped produce important changes in the treatment of Negroes by the armed forces. The democratic spirit embodied in the Declaration of Independence, for example, opened the Continental Army to many Negroes, holding out to them the promise of eventual freedom.[1-2]

Yet (p. 004) the fact that the British themselves were taking large numbers of Negroes into their ranks proved more important than revolutionary idealism in creating a place for Negroes in the American forces. Above all, the participation of both slaves and freedmen in the Continental Army and the Navy was a pragmatic response to a pressing need for fighting men and laborers. Despite the fear of slave insurrection shared by many colonists, some 5,000 Negroes, the majority from New England, served with the American forces in the Revolution, often in integrated units, some as artillerymen and musicians, the majority as infantrymen or as unarmed pioneers detailed to repair roads and bridges.

Again, General Jackson's need for manpower at New Orleans explains the presence of the Louisiana Free Men of Color in the last great battle of the War of 1812. In the Civil War the practical needs of the Union Army overcame the Lincoln administration's fear of alienating the border states. When the call for volunteers failed to produce the necessary men, Negroes were recruited, generally as laborers at first but later for combat. In all, 186,000 Negroes served in the Union Army. In addition to those in the sixteen segregated combat regiments and the labor units, thousands also served unofficially as laborers, teamsters, and cooks. Some 30,000 Negroes served in the Navy, about 25 percent of its total Civil War strength.

The influence of the idealism fostered by the abolitionist crusade should not be overlooked. It made itself felt during the early months of the war in the demands of Radical Republicans and some Union generals for black enrollment, and it brought about the postwar establishment of black units in the Regular Army. In 1866 Congress authorized the creation of permanent, all-black units, which in 1869 were designated the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry.

Crewmen of the USS Miami During the Civil War

Crewmen of the USS Miami During the Civil War

Military needs and idealistic impulses were not enough to guarantee uninterrupted racial progress; in fact, the status of black servicemen tended to reflect the changing patterns in American race relations. During most of the nineteenth century, for example, Negroes served in an integrated U.S. Navy, in the latter half of the century averaging between 20 and 30 percent of the enlisted strength.[1-3] But the employment of Negroes in the Navy was abruptly curtailed after (p. 005) 1900. Paralleling the rise of Jim Crow and legalized segregation in much of America was the cutback in the number of black sailors, who by 1909 were mostly in the galley and the engine room. In contrast to their high percentage of the ranks in the Civil War and Spanish-American War, only 6,750 black sailors, including twenty-four women reservists (yeomanettes), served in World War I; they constituted 1.2 percent of the Navy's total enlistment.[1-4] Their service was limited chiefly to mess duty and coal passing, the latter becoming increasingly rare as the fleet changed from coal to oil.

Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldiers.
(Frederick Remington's 1888 sketch.)]

When postwar enlistment was resumed in 1923, the Navy recruited Filipino stewards instead of Negroes, although a decade later it reopened the branch to black enlistment. Negroes quickly took advantage of this limited opportunity, their numbers rising from 441 in 1932 to 4,007 in June 1940, when they constituted 2.3 percent of the Navy's 170,000 total.[1-5] Curiously enough, because black (p. 006) reenlistment in combat or technical specialties had never been barred, a few black gunner's mates, torpedomen, machinist mates, and the like continued to serve in the 1930's.

Although the Army's racial policy differed from the Navy's, the resulting limited, separate service for Negroes proved similar. The laws of 1866 and 1869 that guaranteed the existence of four black Regular Army regiments also institutionalized segregation, granting federal recognition to a system racially separate and theoretically equal in treatment and opportunity a generation before the Supreme Court sanctioned such a distinction in Plessy v. Ferguson.[1-6] So important to many in the black community was this guaranteed existence of the four regiments that had served with distinction against the frontier Indians that few complained about segregation. In fact, as historian Jack Foner has pointed out, black leaders sometimes interpreted demands for integration as attempts to eliminate black soldiers altogether.[1-7]

The Spanish-American War marked a break with the post-Civil War tradition of limited recruitment. Besides the 3,339 black regulars, approximately 10,000 (p. 007) black volunteers served in the Army during the conflict. World War I was another exception, for Negroes made up nearly 11 percent of the Army's total strength, some 404,000 officers and men.[1-8] The acceptance of Negroes during wartime stemmed from the Army's pressing need for additional manpower. Yet it was no means certain in the early months of World War I that this need for men would prevail over the reluctance of many leaders to arm large groups of Negroes. Still remembered were the 1906 Brownsville affair, in which men of the 25th Infantry had fired on Texan civilians, and the August 1917 riot involving members of the 24th Infantry at Houston, Texas.[1-9] Ironically, those idealistic impulses that had operated in earlier wars were operating again in this most Jim Crow of administrations.[1-10] Woodrow Wilson's promise to make the world safe for democracy was forcing his administration to admit Negroes to the Army. Although it carefully maintained racially separate draft calls, the National Army conscripted some 368,000 Negroes, 13.08 percent of all those drafted in World War I.[1-11]

Black assignments reflected the opinion, expressed repeatedly in Army staff studies throughout the war, that when properly led by whites, blacks could perform reasonably well in segregated units. Once again Negroes were called on to perform a number of vital though unskilled jobs, such as construction work, most notably in sixteen specially formed pioneer infantry regiments. But they also served as frontline combat troops in the all-black 92d and 93d Infantry Divisions, the latter serving with distinction among the French forces.

Established by law and tradition and reinforced by the Army staff's conviction that black troops had not performed well in combat, segregation survived to flourish in the postwar era.[1-12] The familiar practice of maintaining a few black units was resumed in the Regular Army, with the added restriction that Negroes were totally excluded from the Air Corps. The postwar manpower retrenchments common to all Regular Army units further reduced the size of the remaining black units. By June 1940 the number of Negroes on active duty stood at approximately 4,000 men, 1.5 percent of the Army's total, about the same proportion as Negroes in the Navy.[1-13]

Civil Rights and the Law in 1940 (p. 008)

The same constants in American society that helped decide the status of black servicemen in the nineteenth century remained influential between the world wars, but with a significant change.[1-14] Where once the advancing fortunes of Negroes in the services depended almost exclusively on the good will of white progressives, their welfare now became the concern of a new generation of black leaders and emerging civil rights organizations. Skilled journalists in the black press and counselors and lobbyists presenting such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, and the National Negro Congress took the lead in the fight for racial justice in the United States. They represented a black community that for the most part lacked the cohesion, political awareness, and economic strength which would characterize it in the decades to come. Nevertheless, Negroes had already become a recognizable political force in some parts of the country. Both the New Deal politicians and their opponents openly courted the black vote in the 1940 presidential election.

These politicians realized that the United States was beginning to outgrow its old racial relationships over which Jim Crow had reigned, either by law or custom, for more than fifty years. In large areas of the country where lynchings and beatings were commonplace, white supremacy had existed as a literal fact of life and death.[1-15] More insidious than the Jim Crow laws were the economic deprivation and dearth of educational opportunity associated with racial discrimination. Traditionally the last hired, first fired, Negroes suffered all the handicaps that came from unemployment and poor jobs, a condition further aggravated by the Great Depression. The "separate but equal" educational system dictated by law and the realities of black life in both urban and rural areas, north and south, had proved anything but equal and thus closed to Negroes a traditional avenue to advancement in American society.

In these circumstances, the economic and humanitarian programs of the New Deal had a special appeal for black America. Encouraged by these programs and heartened by Eleanor Roosevelt's public support of civil rights, black voters defected from their traditional allegiance to the Republican Party in overwhelming numbers. But the civil rights leaders were already aware, if the average black citizen was not, that despite having made some considerable improvements Franklin Roosevelt never, in one biographer's words, "sufficiently challenged (p. 009) Southern traditions of white supremacy to create problems for himself."[1-16] Negroes, in short, might benefit materially from the New Deal, but they would have to look elsewhere for advancement of their civil rights.

Men like Walter F. White of the NAACP and the National Urban League's T. Arnold Hill sought to use World War II to expand opportunities for the black American. From the start they tried to translate the idealistic sentiment for democracy stimulated by the war and expressed in the Atlantic Charter into widespread support for civil rights in the United States. At the same time, in sharp contrast to many of their World War I predecessors, they placed a price on black support for the war effort: no longer could the White House expect this sizable minority to submit to injustice and yet close ranks with other Americans to defeat a common enemy. It was readily apparent to the Negro, if not to his white supporter or his enemy, that winning equality at home was just as important as advancing the cause of freedom abroad. As George S. Schuyler, a widely quoted black columnist, put it: "If nothing more comes out of this emergency than the widespread understanding among white leaders that the Negro's loyalty is conditional, we shall not have suffered in vain."[1-17] The NAACP spelled out the challenge even more clearly in its monthly publication, The Crisis, which declared itself "sorry for brutality, blood, and death among the peoples of Europe, just as we were sorry for China and Ethiopia. But the hysterical cries of the preachers of democracy for Europe leave us cold. We want democracy in Alabama, Arkansas, in Mississippi and Michigan, in the District of Columbia—in the Senate of the United States."[1-18]

This sentiment crystallized in the black press's Double V campaign, a call for simultaneous victories over Jim Crow at home and fascism abroad. Nor was the Double V campaign limited to a small group of civil rights spokesmen; rather, it reflected a new mood that, as Myrdal pointed out, was permeating all classes of black society.[1-19] The quickening of the black masses in the cause of equal treatment and opportunity in the pre-World War II period and the willingness of Negroes to adopt a more militant course to achieve this end might well mark the beginning of the modern civil rights movement.

Integration in the Army of 1888.

Integration in the Army of 1888.
The Army Band at Fort Duchesne, Utah, composed of soldiers from the black 9th Cavalry and the white 21st Infantry.

Historian Lee Finkle has suggested that the militancy advocated by most of the civil rights leaders in the World War II era was merely a rhetorical device; that for the most part they sought to avoid violence over segregation, concentrating as before on traditional methods of protest.[1-20] This reliance on traditional methods was apparent when the leaders tried to focus the new sentiment among Negroes on two war-related goals: equality of treatment in the armed forces and equality of job opportunity in the expanding defense industries. In 1938 the Pittsburgh (p. 010) Courier, the largest and one of the most influential of the nation's black papers, called upon the President to open the services to Negroes and organized the Committee for Negro Participation in the National Defense Program. These moves led to an extensive lobbying effort that in time spread to many other newspapers and local civil rights groups. The black press and its satellites also attracted the support of several national organizations that were promoting preparedness for war, and these groups, in turn, began to demand equal treatment and opportunity in the armed forces.[1-21]

The government began to respond to these pressures before the United States entered World War II. At the urging of the White House the Army announced plans for the mobilization of Negroes, and Congress amended several mobilization measures to define and increase the military training opportunities for Negroes.[1-22] The most important of these legislative amendments in terms of influence on future race relations in the United States were made to the Selective Service Act of 1940. The matter of race played only a small part in the debate on this highly controversial legislation, but during congressional hearings on the bill black spokesmen testified on discrimination against Negroes in the services.[1-23] These witnesses concluded that if the draft law did not provide specific guarantees against it, discrimination would prevail.

Gunner's Gang on the USS Maine

Gunner's Gang on the USS Maine.

A (p. 011) majority in both houses of Congress seemed to agree. During floor debate on the Selective Service Act, Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York proposed an amendment to guarantee to Negroes and other racial minorities the privilege of voluntary enlistment in the armed forces. He sought in this fashion to correct evils described some ten days earlier by Rayford W. Logan, chairman of the Committee for Negro Participation in the National Defense, in testimony before the House Committee on Military Affairs. The Wagner proposal triggered critical comments and questions. Senators John H. Overton and Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana viewed the Wagner amendment as a step toward "mixed" units. Overton, Ellender, and Senator Lister Hill of Alabama proposed that the matter should be "left to the Army." Hill also attacked the amendment because it would allow the enlistment of Japanese-Americans, some of whom he claimed were not loyal to the United States.[1-24]

General Pershing, AEF Commander, Inspects Troops

General Pershing, AEF Commander, Inspects Troops
of the 802d (Colored) Pioneer Regiment in France, 1918.

No filibuster was attempted, and the Wagner amendment passed the Senate easily, 53 to 21. It provided

that any person between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five regardless of race or color shall be afforded an opportunity voluntarily to enlist and be inducted into the land and naval forces (including aviation units) of the United States for the training and service prescribed in subsection (b), if he is acceptable to the land or naval forces for such training and service.[1-25]

The Wagner amendment was aimed at volunteers for military service. Congressman Hamilton Fish, also of New York, later introduced a similar measure in (p. 012) the House aimed at draftees. The Fish amendment passed the House by a margin of 121 to 99 and emerged intact from the House-Senate conference. The law finally read that in the selection and training of men and execution of the law "there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color."[1-26]

Heroes of the 369th Infantry

Heroes of the 369th Infantry.
Winners of the Croix de Guerre arrive in New York Harbor, February 1919.

The Fish amendment had little immediate impact upon the services' racial patterns. As long as official policy permitted separate draft calls for blacks and whites and the officially held definition of discrimination neatly excluded segregation—and both went unchallenged in the courts—segregation would remain entrenched in the armed forces. Indeed, the rigidly segregated services, their ranks swollen by the draft, were a particular frustration to the civil rights forces because they were introducing some black citizens to racial discrimination more pervasive than any they had ever endured in civilian life. Moreover, as the services continued to open bases throughout the country, they actually spread federally sponsored segregation into areas where it had never before existed with the force of law. In the long run, however, the 1940 draft law and subsequent draft legislation had a strong influence on the armed forces' racial policies. They created a climate in which progress could be made toward integration within the services. Although not apparent in 1940, the pressure of a draft-induced flood of (p. 013) black conscripts was to be a principal factor in the separate decisions of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to integrate their units.

To Segregate Is To Discriminate

As with all the administration's prewar efforts to increase opportunities for Negroes in the armed forces, the Selective Service Act failed to excite black enthusiasm because it missed the point of black demands. Guarantees of black participation were no longer enough. By 1940 most responsible black leaders shared the goal of an integrated armed forces as a step toward full participation in the benefits and responsibilities of American citizenship.

The White House may well have thought that Walter White of the NAACP singlehandedly organized the demand for integration in 1939, but he was merely applying a concept of race relations that had been evolving since World War I. In the face of ever-worsening discrimination, White's generation of civil rights advocates had rejected the idea of the preeminent black leader Booker T. Washington that hope for the future lay in the development of a separate and strong (p. 014) black community. Instead, they gradually came to accept the argument of one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, William E. B. DuBois, that progress was possible only when Negroes abandoned their segregated community to work toward a society open to both black and white. By the end of the 1930's this concept had produced a fundamental change in civil rights tactics and created the new mood of assertiveness that Myrdal found in the black community. The work of White and others marked the beginning of a systematic attack against Jim Crow. As the most obvious practitioner of Jim Crow in the federal government, the services were the logical target for the first battle in a conflict that would last some thirty years.

This evolution in black attitudes was clearly demonstrated in correspondence in the 1930's between officials of the NAACP and the Roosevelt administration over equal treatment in the armed forces. The discussion began in 1934 with a series of exchanges between Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur and NAACP Counsel Charles H. Houston and continued through the correspondence between White and the administration in 1937. The NAACP representatives rejected MacArthur's defense of Army policy and held out for a quota guaranteeing that Negroes would form at least 10 percent of the nation's military strength. Their emphasis throughout was on numbers; during these first exchanges, at least, they fought against disbandment of the existing black regiments and argued for similar units throughout the service.[1-27]

Yet the idea of integration was already strongly implied in Houston's 1934 call for "a more united nation of free citizens,"[1-28] and in February 1937 the organization emphasized the idea in an editorial in The Crisis, asking why black and white men could not fight side by side as they had in the Continental Army.[1-29] And when the Army informed the NAACP in September 1939 that more black units were projected for mobilization, White found this solution unsatisfactory because the proposed units would be segregated.[1-30] If democracy was to be defended, he told the President, discrimination must be eliminated from the armed forces. To this end, the NAACP urged Roosevelt to appoint a commission of black and white citizens to investigate discrimination in the Army and Navy and to recommend the removal of racial barriers.[1-31]

The White House ignored these demands, and on 17 October the secretary to the President, Col. Edwin M. Watson, referred White to a War Department report outlining the new black units being created under presidential authorization. But the NAACP leaders were not to be diverted from the main chance. Thurgood (p. 015) Marshall, then the head of the organization's legal department, recommended that White tell the President "that the NAACP is opposed to the separate units existing in the armed forces at the present time."[1-32]

When his associates failed to agree on a reply to the administration, White decided on a face-to-face meeting with the President.[1-33] Roosevelt agreed to confer with White, Hill of the Urban League, and A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the session finally taking place on 27 September 1940. At that time the civil rights officials outlined for the President and his defense assistants what they called the "important phases of the integration of the Negro into military aspects of the national defense program." Central to their argument was the view that the Army and Navy should accept men without regard to race. According to White, the President had apparently never considered the use of integrated units, but after some discussion he seemed to accept the suggestion that the Army could assign black regiments or batteries alongside white units and from there "the Army could 'back into' the formation of units without segregation."[1-34]

Nothing came of these suggestions. Although the policy announced by the White House subsequent to the meeting contained concessions regarding the employment and distribution of Negroes in the services, it did not provide for integrated units. The wording of the press release on the conference implied, moreover, that the administration's entire program had been approved by White and the others. To have their names associated with any endorsement of segregation was particularly infuriating to these civil rights leaders, who immediately protested to the President.[1-35] The White House later publicly absolved the leaders of any such endorsement, and Press Secretary Early was forced to retract the "damaging impression" that the leaders had in any way endorsed segregation. The President later assured White, Randolph, and Hill that further policy changes would be made to insure fair treatment for Negroes.[1-36]

Presidential promises notwithstanding, the NAACP set out to make integration of the services a matter of overriding interest to the black community during the war. The organization encountered opposition at first when some black leaders were willing to accept segregated units as the price for obtaining the formation of more all-black divisions. The NAACP stood firm, however, and demanded at its annual convention in 1941 an immediate end to segregation.

In a related move symbolizing the growing unity behind the campaign to integrate the military, the leaders of the March on Washington Movement, a group (p. 016) of black activists under A. Philip Randolph, specifically demanded the end of segregation in the Army and Navy. The movement was the first since the days of Marcus Garvey to involve the black masses; in fact Negroes from every social and economic class rallied behind Randolph, ready to demonstrate for equal treatment and opportunity. Although some black papers objected to the movement's militancy, the major civil rights organization showed no such hesitancy. Roy Wilkins, a leader of the NAACP, later claimed that Randolph could supply only about 9,000 potential demonstrators and that the NAACP had provided the bulk of the movement's participants.[1-37]

Although Randolph was primarily interested in fair employment practices, the NAACP had been concerned with the status of black servicemen since World War I. Reflecting the degree of NAACP support, march organizers included a discussion of segregation in the services when they talked with President Roosevelt in June 1941. Randolph and the others proposed ways to abolish the separate racial units in each service, charging that integration was being frustrated by prejudiced senior military officials.[1-38]

The President's meeting with the march leaders won the administration a reprieve from the threat of a mass civil rights demonstration in the nation's capital, but at the price of promising substantial reform in minority hiring for defense industries and the creation of a federal body, the Fair Employment Practices Committee, to coordinate the reform. While it prompted no similar reform in the racial policies of the armed forces, the March on Washington Movement was nevertheless a significant milestone in the services' racial history.[1-39] It signaled the beginning of a popularly based campaign against segregation in the armed forces in which all the major civil rights organizations, their allies in Congress and the press, and many in the black community would hammer away on a single theme: segregation is unacceptable in a democratic society and hypocritical during a war fought in defense of the four freedoms.

CHAPTER 2 (p. 017)

World War II: The Army

Civil rights leaders adopted the "Double V" slogan as their rallying cry during World War II. Demanding victory against fascism abroad and discrimination at home, they exhorted black citizens to support the war effort and to fight for equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes everywhere. Although segregation was their main target, their campaign was directed against all forms of discrimination, especially in the armed forces. They flooded the services with appeals for a redress of black grievances and levied similar demands on the White House, Congress, and the courts.

Black leaders concentrated on the services because they were public institutions, their officials sworn to uphold the Constitution. The leaders understood, too, that disciplinary powers peculiar to the services enabled them to make changes that might not be possible for other organizations; the armed forces could command where others could only persuade. The Army bore the brunt of this attention, but not because its policies were so benighted. In 1941 the Army was a fairly progressive organization, and few institutions in America could match its record. Rather, the civil rights leaders concentrated on the Army because the draft law had made it the nation's largest employer of minority groups.

For its part, the Army resisted the demands, its spokesmen contending that the service's enormous size and power should not be used for social experiment, especially during a war. Further justifying their position, Army officials pointed out that their service had to avoid conflict with prevailing social attitudes, particularly when such attitudes were jealously guarded by Congress. In this period of continuous demand and response, the Army developed a racial policy that remained in effect throughout the war with only superficial modifications sporadically adopted to meet changing conditions.

A War Policy: Reaffirming Segregation

The experience of World War I cast a shadow over the formation of the Army's racial policy in World War II.[2-1] The chief architects of the new policy, and many of its opponents, were veterans of the first war and reflected in their judgments the passions and prejudices of that era.[2-2] Civil rights activists were determined (p. 018) to eliminate the segregationist practices of the 1917 mobilization and to win a fair representation for Negroes in the Army. The traditionalists of the Army staff, on the other hand, were determined to resist any radical change in policy. Basing their arguments on their evaluation of the performance of the 92d Division and some other black units in World War I, they had made, but not publicized, mobilization plans that recognized the Army's obligation to employ black soldiers yet rigidly maintained the segregationist policy of World War I.[2-3] These plans increased the number of types of black units to be formed and even provided for a wide distribution of the units among all the arms and services except the Army Air Forces and Signal Corps, but they did not explain how the skilled Negro, whose numbers had greatly increased since World War I, could be efficiently used within the limitations of black units. In the name of military efficiency the Army staff had, in effect, devised a social rather than a military policy for the employment of black troops.

The White House tried to adjust the conflicting demands of the civil rights leaders and the Army traditionalists. Eager to placate and willing to compromise, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought an accommodation by directing the War Department to provide jobs for Negroes in all parts of the Army. The controversy over integration soon became more public, the opponents less reconcilable; in the weeks following the President's meeting with black representatives on 27 September 1940 the Army countered black demands for integration with a statement released by the White House on 9 October. To provide "a fair and equitable basis" for the use of Negroes in its expansion program, the Army planned to accept Negroes in numbers approximate to their proportion in the national population, about 10 percent. Black officers and enlisted men were to serve, as was then customary, only in black units that were to be formed in each major branch, both combatant and noncombatant, including air units to be created as soon as pilots, mechanics, and technical specialists were trained. There would be no racial intermingling in regimental organizations because the practice of separating white and black troops had, the Army staff said, proved satisfactory over a long period of time. To change would destroy morale and impair preparations for national defense. Since black units in the Army were already "going concerns, accustomed through many years to the present system" of segregation, "no experiments should be tried ... at this critical time."[2-4]

The (p. 019) President's "OK, F.D.R." on the War Department statement transformed what had been a routine prewar mobilization plan into a racial policy that would remain in effect throughout the war. In fact, quickly elevated in importance by War Department spokesmen who made constant reference to the "Presidential Directive," the statement would be used by some Army officials as a presidential sanction for introducing segregation in new situations, as, for example, in the pilot training of black officers in the Army Air Corps. Just as quickly, the civil rights leaders, who had expected more from the tone of the President's own comments and more also from the egalitarian implications of the new draft law, bitterly attacked the Army's policy.

Black criticism came at an awkward moment for President Roosevelt, who was entering a heated campaign for an unprecedented third term and whose New Deal coalition included the urban black vote. His opponent, the articulate Wendell L. Willkie, was an unabashed champion of civil rights and was reportedly attracting a wide following among black voters. In the weeks preceding the election the President tried to soften the effect of the Army's announcement. He promoted Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., to brigadier general, thereby making Davis the first Negro to hold this rank in the Regular Army. He appointed the commander of reserve officers' training at Howard University, Col. Campbell C. Johnson, Special Aide to the Director of Selective Service. And, finally, he named Judge William H. Hastie, dean of the Howard University Law School, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War.

A successful lawyer, Judge Hastie entered upon his new assignment with several handicaps. Because of his long association with black causes, some civil rights organizations assumed that Hastie would be their man in Washington and regarded his duties as an extension of their crusade against discrimination. Hastie's War Department superiors, on the other hand, assumed that his was a public relations job and expected him to handle all complaints and mobilization problems as had his World War I predecessor, Emmett J. Scott. Both assumptions proved false. Hastie was evidently determined to break the racial logjam in the War Department, yet unlike many civil rights advocates he seemed willing to pay the price of slow progress to obtain lasting improvement. According to those who knew him, Hastie was confident that he could demonstrate to War Department officials that the Army's racial policies were both inefficient and unpatriotic.[2-5]

Judge Hastie spent his first ten months in office observing what was happening to the Negro in the Army. He did not like what he saw. To him, separating black soldiers from white soldiers was a fundamental error. First, the effect on black morale was devastating. "Beneath the surface," he wrote, "is widespread discontent. Most white persons are unable to appreciate the rancor and bitterness which the Negro, as a matter of self-preservation, has learned to hide beneath a smile, a joke, or merely an impassive face." The inherent paradox of trying to inculcate pride, dignity, and aggressiveness in a black soldier while inflicting (p. 020) on him the segregationist's concept of the Negro's place in society created in him an insupportable tension. Second, segregation wasted black manpower, a valuable military asset. It was impossible, Hastie charged, to employ skilled Negroes at maximum efficiency within the traditionally narrow limitations of black units. Third, to insist on an inflexible separation of white and black soldiers was "the most dramatic evidence of hypocrisy" in America's professed concern for preserving democracy.

Although he appreciated the impossibility of making drastic changes overnight, Judge Hastie was disturbed because he found "no apparent disposition to make a beginning or a trial of any different plan." He looked for some form of progressive integration by which qualified Negroes could be classified and assigned, not by race, but as individuals, according to their capacities and abilities.[2-6]

Judge Hastie

Judge Hastie

Judge Hastie gained little support from the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, or the Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, when he called for progressive integration. Both considered the Army's segregated units to be in accord with prevailing public sentiment against mixing the races in the intimate association of military life. More to the point, both Stimson and Marshall were sensitive to military tradition, and segregated units had been a part of the Army since 1863. Stimson embraced segregation readily. While conveying to the President that he was "sensitive to the individual tragedy which went with it to the colored man himself," he nevertheless urged Roosevelt not to place "too much responsibility on a race which was not showing initiative in battle."[2-7] Stimson's attitude was not unusual for the times. He professed to believe in civil rights for every citizen, but he opposed social integration. He never tried to reconcile these seemingly inconsistent views; in fact, he probably did not consider them inconsistent. Stimson blamed what he termed Eleanor Roosevelt's "intrusive and impulsive folly" for some of the criticism visited upon the Army's racial policy, just as he inveighed against the "foolish leaders of the colored race" (p. 021) who were seeking "at bottom social equality," which, he concluded, was out of the question "because of the impossibility of race mixture by marriage."[2-8] Influenced by Under Secretary Robert P. Patterson, Assistant Secretary John J. McCloy, and Truman K. Gibson, Jr., who was Judge Hastie's successor, but most of all impressed by the performance of black soldiers themselves, Stimson belatedly modified his defense of segregation. But throughout the war he adhered to the traditional arguments of the Army's professional staff.

General Marshall and Secretary Stimson

General Marshall and Secretary Stimson

General Marshall was a powerful advocate of the views of the Army staff. He lived up to the letter of the Army's regulations, consistently supporting measures to eliminate overt discrimination in the wartime Army. At the same time, he rejected the idea that the Army should take the lead in altering the racial mores of the nation. Asked for his views on Hastie's "carefully prepared memo,"[2-9] General Marshall admitted that many of the recommendations were sound but said that Judge Hastie's proposals

would be tantamount to solving a social problem which has perplexed the American people throughout the history of this nation. The Army cannot accomplish such a solution and (p. 022) should not be charged with the undertaking. The settlement of vexing racial problems cannot be permitted to complicate the tremendous task of the War Department and thereby jeopardize discipline and morale.[2-10]

As Chief of Staff, Marshall faced the tremendous task of creating in haste a large Army to deal with the Axis menace. Since for several practical reasons the bulk of that Army would be trained in the south where its conscripts would be subject to southern laws, Marshall saw no alternative but to postpone reform. The War Department, he said, could not ignore the social relationship between blacks and whites, established by custom and habit. Nor could it ignore the fact that the "level of intelligence and occupational skill" of the black population was considerably below that of whites. Though he agreed that the Army would reach maximum strength only if individuals were placed according to their abilities, he concluded that experiments to solve social problems would be "fraught with danger to efficiency, discipline, and morale." In sum, Marshall saw no reason to change the policy approved by the President less than a year before.[2-11]

The Army's leaders and the secretary's civilian aide had reached an impasse on the question of policy even before the country entered the war. And though the use of black troops in World War I was not entirely satisfactory even to its defenders,[2-12] there appeared to be no time now, in view of the larger urgency of winning the war, to plan other approaches, try other solutions, or tamper with an institution that had won victory in the past. Further ordering the thoughts of some senior Army officials was their conviction that wide-scale mixing of the races in the services might, as Under Secretary Patterson phrased it, foment social revolution.[2-13]

These opinions were clearly evident on 8 December 1941, the day the United States entered World War II, when the Army's leaders met with a group of black publishers and editors. Although General Marshall admitted that he was not satisfied with the department's progress in racial matters and promised further changes, the conference concluded with a speech by a representative of The Adjutant General who delivered what many considered the final word on integration during the war.

The Army is made up of individual citizens of the United States who have pronounced views with respect to the Negro just as they have individual ideas with respect to other matters in their daily walk of life. Military orders, fiat, or dicta, will not change their viewpoints. (p. 023) The Army then cannot be made the means of engendering conflict among the mass of people because of a stand with respect to Negroes which is not compatible with the position attained by the Negro in civil life.... The Army is not a sociological laboratory; to be effective it must be organized and trained according to the principles which will insure success. Experiments to meet the wishes and demands of the champions of every race and creed for the solution of their problems are a danger to efficiency, discipline and morale and would result in ultimate defeat.[2-14]

The civil rights advocates refused to concede that the discussion was over. Judge Hastie, along with a sizable segment of the black press, believed that the beginning of a world war was the time to improve military effectiveness by increasing black participation in that war.[2-15] They argued that eliminating segregation was part of the struggle to preserve democracy, the transcendent issue of the war, and they viewed the unvarying pattern of separate black units as consonant with the racial theories of Nazi Germany.[2-16] Their continuing efforts to eliminate segregation and discrimination eventually brought Hastie a sharp reminder from John J. McCloy. "Frankly, I do not think that the basic issues of this war are involved in the question of whether colored troops serve in segregated units or in mixed units and I doubt whether you can convince people of the United States that the basic issues of freedom are involved in such a question." For Negroes, he warned sternly, the basic issue was that if the United States lost the war, the lot of the black community would be far worse off, and some Negroes "do not seem to be vitally concerned about winning the war." What all Negroes ought to do, he counseled, was to give unstinting support to the war effort in anticipation of benefits certain to come after victory.[2-17]

Thus very early in World War II, even before the United States was actively engaged, the issues surrounding the use of Negroes in the Army were well defined and the lines sharply drawn. Was segregation, a practice in conflict with the democratic aims of the country, also a wasteful use of manpower? How would modifications of policy come—through external pressure or internal reform? Could traditional organizational and social patterns in the military services be changed during a war without disrupting combat readiness?

Segregation and Efficiency

In the years before World War II, Army planners never had to consider segregation in terms of manpower efficiency. Conditioned by the experiences of World War I, when the nation had enjoyed a surplus of untapped manpower even at the height of the war, and aware of the overwhelming manpower surplus of (p. 024) the depression years, the staff formulated its mobilization plans with little regard for the economical use of the nation's black manpower. Its decision to use Negroes in proportion to their percentage of the population was the result of political pressures rather than military necessity. Black combat units were considered a luxury that existed to indulge black demands. When the Army began to mobilize in 1940 it proceeded to honor its pledge, and one year after Pearl Harbor there were 399,454 Negroes in the Army, 7.4 percent of the total and 7.95 percent of all enlisted troops.[2-18]

The effect of segregation on manpower efficiency became apparent only as the Army tried to translate policy into practice. In the face of rising black protest and with direct orders from the White House, the Army had announced that Negroes would be assigned to all arms and branches in the same ratio as whites. Several forces, however, worked against this equitable distribution. During the early months of mobilization the chiefs of those arms and services that had traditionally been all white accepted less than their share of black recruits and thus obliged some organizations, the Quartermaster Corps and the Engineer Corps in particular, to absorb a large percentage of black inductees. The imbalance worsened in 1941. In December of that year Negroes accounted for 5 percent of the Infantry and less than 2 percent each of the Air Corps, Medical Corps, and Signal Corps. The Quartermaster Corps was 15 percent black, the Engineer Corps 25 percent, and unassigned and miscellaneous detachments were 27 percent black.

The rejection of black units could not always be ascribed to racism alone. With some justification the arms and services tried to restrict the number and distribution of Negroes because black units measured far below their white counterparts in educational achievement and ability to absorb training, according to the Army General Classification Test (AGCT). The Army had introduced this test system in March 1941 as its principal instrument for the measurement of a soldier's learning ability. Five categories, with the most gifted in category I, were used in classifying the scores made by the soldiers taking the test (Table 1). The Army planned to take officers and enlisted specialists from the top three categories and the semiskilled soldiers and laborers from the two lowest.

Table 1—Classification of All Men Tested
From March 1941 Through December 1942

AGCT Category White Black
Number Percentage Number Percentage
I 273,626 6.6 1,580 0.4
II 1,154,700 28.0 14,891 3.4
III 1,327,164 32.1 54,302 12.3
IV 1,021,818 24.8 152,725 34.7
V 351,951 8.5 216,664 49.2
Total 4,129,259 100.0 440,162 100.0

Source: Tab A, Memo, G-3 for CofS, 10 Apr 43, AG 201.2 (19 Mar 43) (1).

Although there was considerable confusion on the subject, basically the Army's mental tests measured educational achievement rather than native intelligence, and in 1941 educational achievement in the United States hinged more on geography and economics than color. Though black and white recruits of comparable educations made comparable scores, the majority of Negroes came from areas of the country where inferior schools combined with economic and cultural poverty to put them at a significant disadvantage.[2-19] Many whites suffered (p. 025) similar disadvantages, and in absolute numbers more whites than blacks appeared in the lower categories. But whereas the Army could distribute the low-scoring white soldiers throughout the service so that an individual unit could easily absorb its few illiterate and semiliterate white men, the Army was obliged to assign an almost equal number of low-scoring Negroes to the relatively few black units where they could neither be absorbed nor easily trained. By the same token, segregation penalized the educated Negro whose talents were likely to be wasted when he was assigned to service units along with the unskilled.

Segregation further hindered the efficient use of black manpower by complicating the training of black soldiers. Although training facilities were at a premium, the Army was forced to provide its training and replacement centers with separate housing and other facilities. With an extremely limited number of Regular Army Negroes to draw from, the service had to create cadres for the new units and find officers to lead them. Black recruits destined for most arms and services were assured neither units, billets, nor training cadres. The Army's solution to the problem: lower the quotas for black inductees.

The use of quotas to regulate inductees by race was itself a source of tension between the Army and the Bureau of Selective Service.[2-20] Selective Service questioned the legality of the whole procedure whereby white and black selectees were delivered on the basis of separate calls; in many areas of the country draft boards were under attack for passing over large numbers of Negroes in order to fill these racial quotas. With the Navy depending exclusively on volunteers, Selective Service had by early 1943 a backlog of 300,000 black registrants who, according to their order numbers, should have been called to service but had been passed over. Selective Service wanted to eliminate the quota system altogether. At the very least it demanded that the Army accept more Negroes to adjust the racial imbalance of the draft rolls. The Army, determined to preserve the quota system, tried to satisfy the Selective Service's minimum demands, making (p. 026) room for more black inductees by forcing its arms and services to create more black units. Again the cost to efficiency was high.

Under the pressure of providing sufficient units for Negroes, the organization of units for the sake of guaranteeing vacancies became a major goal. In some cases, careful examination of the usefulness of the types of units provided was subordinated to the need to create units which could receive Negroes. As a result, several types of units with limited military value were formed in some branches for the specific purpose of absorbing otherwise unwanted Negroes. Conversely, certain types of units with legitimate and important military functions were filled with Negroes who could not function efficiently in the tasks to which they were assigned.[2-21]

Engineer Construction Troops in Liberia, July 1942

Engineer Construction Troops in Liberia, July 1942

The practice of creating units for the specific purpose of absorbing Negroes was particularly evident in the Army Air Forces.[2-22] Long considered the most recalcitrant (p. 027) of branches in accepting Negroes, the Air Corps had successfully exempted itself from the allotment of black troops in the 1940 mobilization plans. Black pilots could not be used, Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Air Corps, explained, "since this would result in having Negro officers serving over white enlisted men. This would create an impossible social problem."[2-23] And this situation could not be avoided, since it would take several years to train black mechanics; meanwhile black pilots would have to work with white ground crews, often at distant bases outside their regular chain of command. The Air Corps (p. 028) faced strong opposition when both the civil rights advocates and the rest of the Army attacked this exclusion. The civil rights organizations wanted a place for Negroes in the glamorous Air Corps, but even more to the point the other arms and services wanted this large branch of the Army to absorb its fair share of black recruits, thus relieving the rest of a disproportionate burden.

Labor Battalion Troops in the Aleutian

Labor Battalion Troops in the Aleutian Islands, May 1943.
Stevedores pause for a hot meal at Massacre Bay.

Sergeant Addressing the Line.

Sergeant Addressing the Line.
Aviation squadron standing inspection, 1943.

When the War Department supported these demands the Army Air Forces capitulated. Its 1941 mobilization plans provided for the formation of nine separate black aviation squadrons which would perform the miscellaneous tasks associated with the upkeep of airfields. During the next year the Chief of Staff set the allotment of black recruits for the air arm at a rate that brought over 77,500 Negroes into the Air Corps by 1943. On 16 January 1941 Under Secretary Patterson announced the formation of a black pursuit squadron, but the Army Air Forces, bowing to the opposition typified by General Arnold's comments of the previous year, trained the black pilots in separate facilities at Tuskegee, Alabama, where the Army tried to duplicate the expensive training center established for white officers at Maxwell Field, just forty miles away.[2-24] Black pilots were at first trained exclusively for pursuit flying, a very difficult kind of combat for which a Negro had to qualify both physically and technically or (p. 029) else, in Judge Hastie's words, "not fly at all."[2-25] The 99th Fighter Squadron was organized at Tuskegee in 1941 and sent to the Mediterranean theater in April 1943. By then the all-black 332d Fighter Group with three additional fighter squadrons had been organized, and in 1944 it too was deployed to the Mediterranean.

Pilots of the 332d Fighter Group Being Briefed

Pilots of the 332d Fighter Group Being Briefed
for combat mission in Italy.

These squadrons could use only a limited number of pilots, far fewer than those black cadets qualified for such training. All applicants in excess of requirements were placed on an indefinite waiting list where many became overage or were requisitioned for other military and civilian duties. Yet when the Army Air Forces finally decided to organize a black bomber unit, the 477th Bombardment Group, in late 1943, it encountered a scarcity of black pilots and crewmen. Because of the lack of technical and educational opportunities for Negroes in America, fewer blacks than whites were included in the manpower pool, and Tuskegee, already overburdened with its manifold training functions and lacking the means to train bomber crews, was unable to fill the training gap. Sending black cadets to white training schools was one obvious solution; the Army Air Forces chose instead to postpone the operational date of the 477th until its pilots could be trained at Tuskegee. In the end, the 477th was not declared (p. 030) operational until after the war. Even then some compromise with the Army Air Forces' segregation principles was necessary, since Tuskegee could not accommodate B-25 pilot transition and navigator-bombardier training. In 1944 black officers were therefore temporarily assigned to formerly all-white schools for such training. Tuskegee's position as the sole and separate training center for black pilots remained inviolate until its closing in 1946, however, and its graduates, the "Tuskegee Airmen," continued to serve as a powerful symbol of armed forces segregation.[2-26]

Training for black officer candidates other than flyers, like that of most officer candidates throughout the Army, was integrated. At first the possibility of integrated training seemed unlikely, for even though Assistant Secretary of War for Air Robert A. Lovett had assured Hastie that officer candidate training would be integrated, the Technical Training Command announced plans in 1942 for a segregated facility. Although the plans were quickly canceled the command's announcement was the immediate cause for Hastie's resignation from the War Department. The Air staff assured the Assistant Secretary of War in January of 1943 that qualified Negroes were being sent to officer candidate schools and to training courses "throughout the school system of the Technical Training Command."[2-27] In fact, Negroes did attend the Air Forces' officer candidate school at Miami Beach, although not in great numbers. In spite of their integrated training, however, most of these black officers were assigned to the predominantly black units at Tuskegee and Godman fields.

The Army Air Forces found it easier to absorb the thousands of black enlisted men than to handle the black flying squadrons. For the enlisted men it created a series of units with vaguely defined duties, usually common labor jobs operating for the most part under a bulk allotment system that allowed the Air Forces to absorb great numbers of new men. Through 1943 hundreds of these aviation training squadrons, quartermaster truck companies, and engineer aviation and air base security battalions were added to the Air Forces' organization tables. Practically every American air base in the world had its contingent of black troops performing the service duties connected with air operations.

The Air Corps, like the Armor and the Artillery branches, was able to form separate squadrons or battalions for black troops, but the Infantry and Cavalry found it difficult to organize the growing number of separate black battalions and regiments. The creation of black divisions was the obvious solution, although this arrangement would run counter to current practice, which was based in part on the Army's experience with the 92d Division in World War I. Convinced of the poor performance of that unit in 1918, the War Department had decided in the 1920's not to form any more black divisions. The regiment would serve as the basic black unit, and from time to time these regiments would be employed as organic elements of divisions whose other regiments and units would be white. In keeping with this decision, the black 9th and 10th Cavalry (p. 031) regiments were combined in October 1940 with white regiments to form the 2d Cavalry Division.

Before World War II most black leaders had agreed with the Army's opposition to all-black divisions, but for different reasons. They considered that such divisions only served to strengthen the segregation pattern they so opposed. In the early weeks of the war a conference of black editors, including Walter White, pressed for the creation of an experimental integrated division of volunteers. White argued that such a unit would lift black morale, "have a tremendous psychological effect upon white America," and refute the enemy's charge that "the United States talks about democracy but practices racial discrimination and segregation."[2-28] The NAACP organized a popular movement in support of the idea, which was endorsed by many important individuals and organizations.[2-29] Yet this experiment was unacceptable to the Army. Ignoring its experience with all-volunteer paratroopers and other special units, the War Department declared that the volunteer system was "an ineffective and dangerous" method of raising combat units. Admitting that the integrated division might be an encouraging gesture toward certain minorities, General Marshall added that "the urgency of the present military situation necessitates our using tested and proved methods of procedure, and using them with all haste."[2-30]

Even though it rejected the idea of a volunteer, integrated division, the Army staff reviewed in the fall of 1942 a proposal for the assignment of some black recruits to white units. The Organization-Mobilization Group of G-3, headed by Col. Edwin W. Chamberlain, argued that the Army General Classification Test scores proved that black soldiers in groups were less useful to the Army than white soldiers in groups. It was a waste of manpower, funds, and equipment, therefore, to organize the increasingly large numbers of black recruits into segregated units. Not only was such organization wasteful, but segregation "aggravated if not caused in its entirety" the racial friction that was already plaguing the Army. To avoid both the waste and the strife, Chamberlain recommended that the Army halt the activation of additional black units and integrate black recruits in the low-score categories, IV and V, into white units in the ratio of one black to nine whites. The black recruits would be used as cooks, orderlies, and drivers, and in other jobs which required only the minimum basic training and which made up 10 to 20 percent of those in the average unit. Negroes in the higher categories, I through III, would be assigned to existing black units where they could be expected to improve the performance of those units. Chamberlain defended his plan against possible charges of discrimination by pointing out that the Negroes would be assigned wholly on the basis of native capacity, not race, and that this plan would increase the opportunities for Negroes to participate in the war effort. To those who objected on the grounds that the proposal meant racial integration, Chamberlain replied that (p. 032) there was no more integration involved than in "the employment of Negroes as servants in a white household."[2-31]

The Chamberlain Plan and a variant proposed the following spring prompted discussion in the Army staff that clearly revealed general dissatisfaction with the current policy. Nonetheless, in the face of opposition from the service and ground forces, the plan was abandoned. Yet because something had to be done with the mounting numbers of black draftees, the Army staff reversed the decision made in its prewar mobilization plans and turned once more to the concept of the all-black division. The 93d Infantry Division was reactivated in the spring of 1942 and the 92d the following fall. The 2d Cavalry Division was reconstituted as an all-black unit and reactivated in February 1943. These units were capable of absorbing 15,000 or more men each and could use men trained in the skills of practically every arm and service.

This absorbency potential became increasingly important in 1943 when the chairman of the War Manpower Commission, Paul V. McNutt, began to attack the use of racial quotas in selecting inductees. He considered the practice of questionable legality, and the commission faced mounting public criticism as white husbands and fathers were drafted while single healthy Negroes were not called.[2-32] Secretary Stimson defended the legality of the quota system. He did not consider the current practice "discriminatory in any way" so long as the Army accepted its fair percentage of Negroes. He pointed out that the Selective Service Act provided that no man would be inducted "unless and until" he was acceptable to the services, and Negroes were acceptable "only at a rate at which they can be properly assimilated."[2-33] Stimson later elaborated on this theme, arguing that the quota system would be necessary even after the Army reached full strength because inductions would be limited to replacement of losses. Since there were few Negroes in combat, their losses would be considerably less than those of whites. McNutt disagreed with Stimson's interpretation of the law and announced plans to abandon it as soon as the current backlog of uninducted Negroes was absorbed, a date later set for January 1944.[2-34]

A crisis over the quota system was averted when, beginning in the spring of 1943, the Army's monthly manpower demands outran the ability of the Bureau of Selective Service to provide black inductees. So long as the Army requested more Negroes than the bureau could supply, little danger existed that McNutt would carry out his threat.[2-35] But it was no victory for the Army. The question of the quota's legality remained unanswered, and it appeared that the Army might be forced to abandon the system at some future time when there was a black surplus.

There (p. 033) were many reasons for the sudden shortage of black inductees in the spring of 1943. Since more Negroes were leaving the service for health or other reasons, the number of calls for black draftees had increased. In addition, local draft boards were rejecting more Negroes. But the basic reason for the shortage was that the magnitude of the war had finally turned the manpower surpluses of the 1930's into manpower shortages, and the shortages were appearing in black as well as white levies for the armed forces. The Negro was no longer a manpower luxury. The quota calls for Negroes rose in 1944, and black strength stood at 701,678 men in September, approximately 9.6 percent of the whole Army. [2-36] The percentage of black women in the Army stayed at less than 6 percent of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps—after July 1943 the Women's Army Corps—throughout the war. Training and serving under the same racial policy that governed the employment of men, the women's corps also had a black recruitment goal of 10 percent, but despite the active efforts of recruiters and generally favorable publicity from civil rights groups, the volunteer organization was unable to overcome the attitude among young black women that they would not be well received at Army posts.[2-37]

Faced with manpower shortages, the Army began to reassess its plan to distribute Negroes proportionately throughout the arms and services. The demand for new service units had soared as the size of the overseas armies grew, while black combat units, unwanted by overseas commanders, had remained stationed in the United States. The War Department hoped to ease the strain on manpower resources by converting black combat troops into service troops. A notable example of the wholesale conversion of such combat troops and one that received considerable notice in the press was the inactivation of the 2d Cavalry Division upon its arrival in North Africa in March 1944. Victims of the change included the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments, historic combat units that had fought with distinction in the Indian wars, with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, and in the Philippine Insurrection.[2-38]

By trying to justify the conversion, Secretary Stimson only aggravated the controversy. In the face of congressional questions and criticism in the black press, Stimson declared that the decision stemmed from a study of the relative abilities and status of training of the troops in the units available for conversion. If black units were particularly affected, it was because "many of the Negro units have been unable to master efficiently the techniques of modern weapons."[2-39] Thus, by the end of 1944, the Army had abandoned its attempt to maintain a balance between black combat and service units, and during the rest of the war most Negroes were assigned to service units.

According (p. 034) to the War Department, the relationship between Negroes and the Army was a mutual obligation. Negroes had the right and duty to serve their country to the best of their abilities; the Army had the right and the duty to see that they did so. True, the use of black troops was made difficult because their schooling had been largely inferior and their work therefore chiefly unskilled. Nevertheless, the Army staff concluded, all races were equally endowed for war and most of the less mentally alert could fight if properly led.[2-40] A manual on leadership observed:

War Department concern with the Negro is focused directly and solely on the problem of the most effective use of colored troops ... the Army has no authority or intention to participate in social reform as such but does view the problem as a matter of efficient troop utilization. With an imposed ceiling on the maximum strength of the Army it is the responsibility of all officers to assure the most efficient use of the manpower assigned.[2-41]

But the best efforts of good officers could not avail against poor policy. Although the Army maintained that Negroes had to bear a proportionate share of the casualties, by policy it assigned the majority to noncombat units and thus withheld the chance for them to assume an equal risk. Subscribing to the advantage of making full use of individual abilities, the Army nevertheless continued to consider Negroes as a group and to insist that military efficiency required racially segregated units. Segregation in turn burdened the service with the costly provision of separate facilities for the races. Although a large number of Negroes served in World War II, their employment was limited in opportunity and expensive for the service.

The Need for Change

If segregation weakened the Army's organization for global war, it had even more serious effects on every tenth soldier, for as it deepened the Negro's sense of inferiority it devastated his morale. It was a major cause of the poor performance and the disciplinary problems that plagued so many black units. And it made black soldiers blame their personal difficulties and misfortunes, many the common lot of any soldier, on racial discrimination.[2-42]

Deteriorating morale in black units and pressure from a critical audience of articulate Negroes and their sympathizers led the War Department to focus special attention on its race problem. Early in the war Secretary Stimson had agreed with a General Staff recommendation that a permanent committee be formed to evaluate racial incidents, propose special reforms, and answer questions involving the training and assignment of Negroes.[2-43] On 27 August 1942 he established the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, with Assistant Secretary (p. 035) McCloy as chairman.[2-44] Caught in the cross fire of black demands and Army traditions, the committee contented itself at first with collecting information on the racial situation and acting as a clearinghouse for recommendations on the employment of black troops.[2-45]

Service Club, Fort Huachuca

Service Club, Fort Huachuca

Serious racial trouble was developing by the end of the first year of the war. The trouble was a product of many factors, including the psychological effects of segregation which may not have been so obvious to the committee or even to the black soldier. Other factors, however, were visible to all and begged for remedial action. For example, the practice of using racially separated facilities on military posts, which was not sanctioned in the Army's basic plan for black troops, took hold early in the war. Many black units were located at camps in the south, where commanders insisted on applying local laws and customs inside the military (p. 036) reservations. This practice spread rapidly, and soon in widely separated sections of the country commanders were separating the races in theaters, post exchanges, service clubs, and buses operating on posts. The accommodations provided Negroes were separate but rarely equal, and substandard recreational and housing facilities assigned to black troops were a constant source of irritation. In fact the Army, through the actions of local commanders, actually introduced Jim Crow in some places at home and abroad. Negroes considered such practices in violation of military regulations and inconsistent with the announced principles for which the United States was fighting. Many believed themselves the victims of the personal prejudices of the local commander. Judge Hastie reported their feelings: "The traditional mores of the South have been widely accepted and adopted by the Army as the basis of policy and practice affecting the Negro soldier.... In tactical organization, in physical location, in human contacts, the Negro soldier is separated from the white soldier as completely as possible."[2-46]

In November 1941 another controversy erupted over the discovery that the Red Cross had established racially segregated blood banks. The Red Cross readily admitted that it had no scientific justification for the racial separation of blood and blamed the armed services for the decision. Despite the evidence of science and at risk of demoralizing the black community, the Army's Surgeon General defended the controversial practice as necessary to insure the acceptance of a potentially unpopular program. Ignoring constant criticism from the NAACP and elements of the black press, the armed forces continued to demand segregated blood banks throughout the war. Negroes appreciated the irony of the situation, for they were well aware that a black doctor, Charles R. Drew, had been a pioneer researcher in the plasma extraction process and had directed the first Red Cross blood bank.[2-47]

Black morale suffered further in the leadership crisis that developed in black units early in the war. The logic of segregated units demanded a black officer corps, but there were never enough black officers to command all the black units. In 1942 only 0.35 percent of the Negroes in the Army were officers, a shortcoming that could not be explained by poor education alone.[2-48] But when the number of black officers did begin to increase, obstacles to their employment appeared: some white commanders, assuming that Negroes did not possess (p. 037) leadership ability and that black troops preferred white officers, demanded white officers for their units. Limited segregated recreational and living facilities for black officers prevented their assignment to some bases, while the active opposition of civilian communities forced the Army to exclude them from others. The Army staff practice of forbidding Negroes to outrank or command white officers serving in the same unit not only limited the employment and restricted the rank of black officers but also created invidious distinctions between white and black officers in the same unit. It tended to convince enlisted men that their black leaders were not full-fledged officers. Thus restricted in assignment and segregated socially and professionally, his ability and status in question, the black officer was often an object of scorn to himself and to his men.

The attitude and caliber of white officers assigned to black units hardly compensated for the lack of black officers. In general, white officers resented their assignment to black units and were quick to seek transfer. Worse still, black units, where sensitive and patient leaders were needed to create an effective military force, often became, as they had in earlier wars, dumping grounds for officers unwanted in white units.[2-49] The Army staff further aggravated black sensibilities by showing a preference for officers of southern birth and training, believing them to be generally more competent to exercise command over Negroes. In reality many Negroes, especially those from the urban centers, particularly resented southern officers. At best these officers appeared paternalistic, and Negroes disliked being treated as a separate and distinct group that needed special handling and protection. As General Davis later circumspectly reported, "many colored people of today expect only a certain line of treatment from white officers born and reared in the South, namely, that which follows the southern pattern, which is most distasteful to them."[2-50]

Some of these humiliations might have been less demeaning had the black soldier been convinced that he was a full partner in the crusade against fascism. As news of the conversion of black units from combat to service duties and the word that no new black combat units were being organized became a matter of public knowledge, the black press asked: Will any black combat units be left? Will any of those left be allowed to fight? In fact, would black units ever get overseas?

Actually, the Army had a clear-cut plan for the overseas employment of both black service and combat units. In May 1942 the War Department directed the Army Air Forces, Ground Forces, and Service Forces to make sure that black troops were ordered overseas in numbers not less than their percentage in each of these commands. Theater commanders would be informed of orders moving black troops to their commands, but they would not be asked to agree to their shipment beforehand. Since troop shipments to the British Isles were the chief concern (p. 038) at that time, the order added that "there will be no positive restrictions on the use of colored troops in the British Isles, but shipment of colored units to the British Isles will be limited, initially, to those in the service categories."[2-51]

The problem here was not the Army's policy but the fact that certain foreign governments and even some commanders in American territories wanted to exclude Negroes. Some countries objected to black soldiers because they feared race riots and miscegenation. Others with large black populations of their own felt that black soldiers with their higher rates of pay might create unrest. Still other countries had national exclusion laws. In the case of Alaska and Trinidad, Secretary Stimson ordered, "Don't yield." Speaking of Iceland, Greenland, and Labrador, he commented, "Pretty cold for blacks." To the request of Panamanian officials that a black signal construction unit be withdrawn from their country he replied, "Tell them [the black unit] they must complete their work—it is ridiculous to raise such objections when the Panama Canal itself was built with black labor." As for Chile and Venezuela's exclusion of Negroes he ruled that "As we are the petitioners here we probably must comply."[2-52] Stimson's rulings led to a new War Department policy: henceforth black soldiers would be assigned without regard to color except that they would not be sent to extreme northern areas or to any country against its will when the United States had requested the right to station troops in that country.[2-53]

Ultimately, theater commanders decided which troops would be committed to action and which units would be needed overseas; their decisions were usually respected by the War Department where few believed that Washington should dictate such matters. Unwilling to add racial problems to their administrative burdens, some commanders had been known to cancel their request for troops rather than accept black units. Consequently, very few Negroes were sent overseas in the early years of the war.

Black soldiers were often the victims of gross discrimination that transcended their difficulties with the Army's administration. For instance, black soldiers, particularly those from more integrated regions of the country, resented local ordinances governing transportation and recreation facilities that put them at a great disadvantage in the important matters of leave and amusement. Infractions of local rules were inevitable and led to heightened racial tension and recurring violence.[2-54] At times black soldiers themselves, reflecting the low morale and lack of discipline in their units, instigated the violence. Whoever the culprits, the Army's files are replete with cases of discrimination charged, investigations launched, and exonerations issued or reforms ordered.[2-55] An incredible amount of time and effort went into handling these cases during the darkest days (p. 039) of the war—cases growing out of a policy created in the name of military efficiency.

Nor was the violence limited to the United States. Racial friction also developed in Great Britain where some American troops, resenting their black countrymen's social acceptance by the British, tried to export Jim Crow by forcing the segregation of recreational facilities. Appreciating the treatment they were receiving from the British, the black soldiers fought back, and the clashes grew at times to riot proportions. General Davis considered discrimination and prejudice the cause of trouble, but he placed the immediate blame on local commanders. Many commanders, convinced that they had little jurisdiction over racial disputes in the civilian community or simply refusing to accept responsibility, delegated the task of keeping order to their noncommissioned officers and military police.[2-56] These men, rarely experienced in handling racial disturbances and often prejudiced against black soldiers, usually managed to exacerbate the situation.

In an atmosphere charged with rumors and counterrumors, personal incidents involving two men might quickly blow up into riots involving hundreds. In the summer of 1943 the Army began to reap what Ulysses Lee called the "harvest of disorder." Race riots occurred at military reservations in Mississippi, Georgia, California, Texas, and Kentucky. At other stations, the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies somberly warned, there were indications of unrest ready to erupt into violence.[2-57] By the middle of the war, violence over racial issues at home and abroad had become a source of constant concern for the War Department.

Internal Reform: Amending Racial Practices

Concern over troop morale and discipline and the attendant problem of racial violence did not lead to a substantial revision of the Army's racial policy. On the contrary, the Army staff continued to insist that segregation was a national issue and that the Army's task was to defend the country, not alter its social customs. Until the nation changed its racial practices or until Congress ordered such changes for the armed forces, racially separated units would remain.[2-58] In 1941 the Army had insisted that debate on the subject was closed,[2-59] and, in fact, except for discussion of the Chamberlain Plan there was no serious thought of revising racial policy in the Army staff until after the war.

Had the debate been reopened in 1943, the traditionalists on the Army staff would have found new support for their views in a series of surveys made of white and black soldiers in 1942 and 1943. These surveys supported the theory that (p. 040) the Army, a national institution composed of individual citizens with pronounced views on race, would meet massive disobedience and internal disorder as well as national resistance to any substantial change in policy. One extensive survey, covering 13,000 soldiers in ninety-two units, revealed that 88 percent of the whites and 38 percent of the Negroes preferred segregated units. Among the whites, 85 percent preferred separate service clubs and 81 percent preferred separate post exchanges. Almost half of the Negroes thought separate service clubs and post exchanges were a good idea.[2-60] These attitudes merely reflected widely held national views as suggested in a 1943 survey of five key cities by the Office of War Information.[2-61] The survey showed that 90 percent of the whites and 25 percent of the blacks questioned supported segregation.

Some Army officials considered justification by statistics alone a risky business. Reviewing the support for segregation revealed in the surveys, for example, the Special Services Division commented: "Many of the Negroes and some of the whites who favor separation in the Army indicate by their comments that they are opposed to segregation in principle. They favor separation in the Army to avoid trouble or unpleasantness." Its report added that the longer a Negro remained in the Army, the less likely he was to support segregation.[2-62] Nor did it follow from the overwhelming support for segregation that a policy of integration would result in massive resistance. As critics later pointed out, the same surveys revealed that almost half the respondents expressed a strong preference for civilian life, but the Army did not infer that serious disorders would result if these men were forced to remain in uniform.[2-63]

By 1943 Negroes within and without the War Department had just about exhausted arguments for a policy change. After two years of trying, Judge Hastie came to believe that change was possible only in response to "strong and manifest public opinion." He concluded that he would be far more useful as a private citizen who could express his views freely and publicly than he was as a War Department employee, bound to conform to official policy. Quitting the department, Hastie joined the increasingly vocal black organizations in a sustained attack on the Army's segregation policy, an attack that was also being translated into political action by the major civil rights organizations. In 1943, a full year before the national elections, representatives of twenty-five civil rights groups (p. 041) met and formulated the demands they would make of the presidential candidates: full integration (some groups tempered this demand by calling for integrated units of volunteers); abolition of racial quotas; abolition of segregation in recreational and other Army facilities; abolition of blood plasma segregation; development of an educational program in race relations in the Army; greater black participation in combat forces; and the progressive removal of black troops from areas where they were subject to disrespect, abuse, and even violence.[2-64]

The Army could not afford to ignore these demands completely, as Truman K. Gibson, Jr., Judge Hastie's successor, pointed out.[2-65] The political situation indicated that the racial policy of the armed forces would be an issue in the next national election. Recalling the changes forced on the Army as a result of political pressures applied before the 1940 election, Gibson predicted that actions that might now seem impolitic to the Army and the White House might not seem so during the next campaign when the black vote could influence the outcome in several important states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Michigan. Already the Chicago Tribune and other anti-administration groups were trying to encourage black protest in terms not always accurate but nonetheless believable to the black voter. Gibson suggested that the Army act before the political pressure became even more intense.[2-66]

Caught between the black demands and War Department traditions, the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies launched an attack—much too late and too weak, its critics agreed—on what it perceived as the causes of the Army's racial disorders. Some of the credit for this attack must go to Truman Gibson. No less dedicated to abolition of racial segregation than Hastie, Gibson eschewed the grand gesture and emphasized those practical changes that could be effected one step at a time. For all his zeal, Gibson was admirably detached.[2-67] He knew that his willingness to recognize that years of oppression and injustice had marred the black soldier's performance would earn for him the scorn of many civil rights activists, but he also knew that his fairness made him an effective advocate in the War Department. He worked closely with McCloy's committee, always describing with his alternatives for action their probable effect upon the Army, the public, and the developing military situation. As a result of the close cooperation between the Advisory Committee and Gibson, the Army for the first time began to agree on practical if not policy changes.

The Advisory Committee's first campaign was directed at local commanders. After a long review of the evidence, the committee was convinced that the major cause of racial disorder was the failure of commanders in some echelons to appreciate the seriousness of racial unrest and their own responsibility for dealing with (p. 042) the discipline, morale, and welfare of their men. Since it found that most disturbances began with real or fancied incidents of discrimination, the committee concluded that there should be no discrimination against Negroes in the matter of privileges and accommodations and none in favor of Negroes that compromised disciplinary standards. The committee wanted local commanders to be reminded that maintaining proper discipline and good order among soldiers, and between soldiers and civilians, was a definite command responsibility.[2-68]

General Marshall incorporated the committee's recommendations in a letter to the field. He concluded by saying that "failure on the part of any commander to concern himself personally and vigorously with this problem will be considered as evidence of lack of capacity and cause for reclassification and removal from assignment."[2-69] At the same time, the Chief of Staff did not adopt several of the committee's specific recommendations. He did not require local commanders to recommend changes in War Department policy on the treatment of Negroes and the organization and employment of black units. Nor did he require them to report on steps taken by them to follow the committee's recommendations. Moreover, he did not order the dispatch of black combat units to active theaters although the committee had pointed to this course as "the most effective means of reducing tension among Negro troops."

Next, the Advisory Committee turned its attention to the black press. Judge Hastie and the representatives of the senior civil rights organizations were judicious in their criticism and accurate in their charges, but this statement could not be made for much of the black press. Along with deserving credit for spotlighting racial injustices and giving a very real impetus to racial progress, a segment of the black press had to share the blame for fomenting racial disorder by the frequent publication of inaccurate and inflammatory war stories. Some field commanders charged that the constant criticism was detrimental to troop morale and demanded that the War Department investigate and even censor particular black newspapers. In July 1943 the Army Service Forces recommended that General Marshall officially warn the editors against printing inciting and untrue stories and suggested that if this caution failed sedition proceedings be instituted against the culprits.[2-70] General Marshall followed a more moderate course suggested by Assistant Secretary McCloy.[2-71] The Army staff amplified and improved the services of the Bureau of Public Relations by appointing Negroes to the bureau and by releasing more news items of special interest to black journalists. The result was a considerable increase in constructive and accurate stories on (p. 043) black participation in the war, although articles and editorials continued to be severely critical of the Army's segregation policy.

The proposal to send black units into combat, rejected by Marshall when raised by the Advisory Committee in 1943, became the preeminent racial issue in the Army during the next year.[2-72] It was vitally necessary, the Advisory Committee reasoned, that black troops not be wasted by leaving them to train endlessly in camps around the country, and that the War Department begin making them a "military asset." In March 1944 it recommended to Secretary Stimson that black units be introduced into combat and that units and training schedules be reorganized if necessary to insure that this deployment be carried out as promptly as possible. Elaborating on the committee's recommendation, Chairman McCloy added:

There has been a tendency to allow the situation to develop where selections are made on the basis of efficiency with the result that the colored units are discarded for combat service, but little is done by way of studying new means to put them in shape for combat service.

With so large a portion of our population colored, with the example of the effective use of colored troops (of a much lower order of intelligence) by other nations, and with the many imponderables that are connected with the situation, we must, I think, be more affirmative about the use of our Negro troops. If present methods do not bring them to combat efficiency, we should change those methods. That is what this resolution purports to recommend.[2-73]

Stimson agreed, and on 4 March 1944 the Advisory Committee met with members of the Army staff to decide on combat assignments for regimental combat teams from the 92d and 93d Divisions. In order that both handpicked soldiers and normal units might be tested, the team from the 93d would come from existing units of that division, and the one from the 92d would be a specially selected group of volunteers. General Marshall and his associates continued to view the commitment of black combat troops as an experiment that might provide documentation for the future employment of Negroes in combat.[2-74] In keeping with this experiment, the Army staff suggested to field commanders how Negroes might be employed and requested continuing reports on the units' progress.

The belated introduction of major black units into combat helped alleviate the Army's racial problems. After elements of the 93d Division were committed on Bougainville in March 1944 and an advanced group of the 92d landed in Italy in July, the Army staff found it easier to ship smaller supporting units to combat theaters, either as separate units or as support for larger units, a course that reduced the glut of black soldiers stationed in the United States. Recognizing that many of these units had poor leaders, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, head of the Army Ground Forces, ordered that, "if practicable," all leaders of black units (p. 044) who had not received "excellent" or higher in their efficiency ratings would be replaced before the units were scheduled for overseas deployment.[2-75] Given the "if practicable" loophole, there was little chance that all the units would go overseas with "excellent" commanders.

93d Division Troops in Bougainville, April 1944

93d Division Troops in Bougainville, April 1944.
Men, packing mortar shells, cross the West Branch Texas River.

A source of pride to the black community, the troop commitments also helped to reduce national racial tensions, but they did little for the average black soldier who remained stationed in the United States. He continued to suffer discrimination within and without the gates of the camp. The committee attributed that discrimination to the fact that War Department policy was not being carried out in all commands. In some instances local commanders were unaware of the policy; in others they refused to pay sufficient attention to the seriousness of what was, after all, but one of many problems facing them. For some time committee members had been urging the War Department to write special instructions, and finally in February 1944 the department issued a pamphlet designed to acquaint local commanders with an official definition of Army racial policy and to improve methods of developing leaders in black units. Command (p. 045) of Negro Troops was a landmark publication.[2-76] Its frank statement of the Army's racial problems, its scholarly and objective discussion of the disadvantages that burdened the black soldier, and its outline of black rights and responsibilities clearly revealed the committee's intention to foster racial harmony by promoting greater command responsibility. The pamphlet represented a major departure from previous practice and served as a model for later Army and Navy statements on race.[2-77]

But pamphlets alone would not put an end to racial discrimination; the committee had to go beyond its role of instructor. Although the War Department had issued a directive on 10 March 1943 forbidding the assignment of any recreational facility, "including theaters and post exchanges," by race and requiring the removal of signs labeling facilities for "white" and "colored" soldiers, there had been little alteration in the recreational situation. The directive had allowed the separate use of existing facilities by designated units and camp areas, so that in many places segregation by unit had replaced separation by race, and inspectors and commanders reported that considerable confusion existed over the War Department's intentions. On other posts the order to remove the racial labels from facilities was simply disregarded. On 8 July 1944 the committee persuaded the War Department to issue another directive clearly informing commanders that facilities could be allocated to specific areas or units, but that all post exchanges and theaters must be opened to all soldiers regardless of race. All government transportation, moreover, was to be available to all troops regardless of race. Nor could soldiers be restricted to certain sections of government vehicles on or off base, regardless of local customs.[2-78]

Little dramatic change ensued in day-to-day life on base. Some commanders, emphasizing that part of the directive which allowed the designation of facilities for units and areas, limited the degree of the directive's application to post exchanges and theaters and ignored those provisions concerned with individual rights. This interpretation only added to the racial unrest that culminated in several incidents, of which the one at the officers' club at Freeman Field, Indiana, was the most widely publicized.[2-79] After this incident the committee promptly asked for a revision of WD Pamphlet 20-6 on the command of black troops that would clearly spell out the intention of the authors of the directive to apply its integration provisions explicitly to "officers' clubs, messes, or similar social organizations."[2-80] In effect the War Department was declaring that racial separation applied to units only. For the first time it made a clear (p. 046) distinction between Army race policy to be applied on federal military reservations and local civilian laws and customs to be observed by members of the armed forces when off post. In Acting Secretary Patterson's words:

The War Department has maintained throughout the emergency and present war that it is not an appropriate medium for effecting social readjustments but has insisted that all soldiers, regardless of race, be afforded equal opportunity to enjoy the recreational facilities which are provided at posts, camps and stations. The thought has been that men who are fulfilling the same obligation, suffering the same dislocation of their private lives, and wearing the identical uniform should, within the confines of the military establishment, have the same privileges for rest and relaxation.[2-81]

Widely disseminated by the black press as the "anti-Jim Crow law," the directive and its interpretation by senior officials produced the desired result. Although soldiers most often continued to frequent the facilities in their own base areas, in effect maintaining racial separation, they were free to use any facilities, and this knowledge gradually dispelled some of the tensions on posts where restrictions of movement had been a constant threat to good order.

With some pride, Assistant Secretary McCloy claimed on his Advisory Committee's first birthday that the Army had "largely eliminated discrimination against the Negroes within its ranks, going further in this direction than the country itself."[2-82] He was a little premature. Not until the end of 1944 did the Advisory Committee succeed in eliminating the most glaring examples of discrimination within the Army. Even then race remained an issue, and isolated racial incidents continued to occur.

Two Exceptions

Departmental policy notwithstanding, a certain amount of racial integration was inevitable during a war that mobilized a biracial army of eight million men. Through administrative error or necessity, segregation was ignored on many occasions, and black and white soldiers often worked and lived together in hospitals,[2-83] rest camps, schools, and, more rarely, units. But these were isolated cases, touching relatively few men, and they had no discernible effect on racial policy. Of much more importance was the deliberate integration in officer training schools and in the divisions fighting in the European theater in 1945. McCloy referred to these deviations from policy as experiments "too limited to afford general conclusions."[2-84] But if they set no precedents, they at least challenged the Army's cherished assumptions on segregation and strengthened the postwar demands for change.

The Army integrated its officer candidate training in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the World War I program. In 1917 Secretary of War Newton D. Baker (p. 047) had established a separate training school for black officer candidates at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, with disappointing results. To fill its quotas the school had been forced to lower its entrance standards, and each month an arbitrary number of black officer candidates were selected and graduated with little regard for their qualifications. Many World War I commanders agreed that the black officers produced by the school proved inadequate as troop commanders, and postwar staff studies generally opposed the future use of black officers. Should the Army be forced to accept black officers in the future, these commanders generally agreed, they should be trained along with whites.[2-85]

Gun Crew of Battery B, 598th Field Artillery

Gun Crew of Battery B, 598th Field Artillery,
moving into position near the Arno River, Italy, September 1944.

Despite these criticisms, mobilization plans between the wars all assumed that black officers would be trained and commissioned, although, as the 1937 mobilization plan put it, their numbers would be limited to those required to provide officers for organizations authorized to have black officers.[2-86] No detailed plans were drawn up on the nature of this training, but by the eve of World War II a policy had become fixed: Negroes were to be chosen and trained according to the same standards as white officers, preferably in the same schools.[2-87] (p. 048) The War Department ignored the subject of race when it established the officer candidate schools in 1941. "The basic and predominating consideration governing selections to OCS," The Adjutant General announced, would be "outstanding qualities of leadership as demonstrated by actual services in the Army."[2-88] General Davis, who participated in the planning conferences, reasoned that integrated training would be vital for the cooperation that would be necessary in battle. He agreed with the War Department's silence on race, adding, "you can't have Negro, white, or Jewish officers, you've got to have American officers."[2-89]

Tankers of the 761st Medium Tank Battalion

Tankers of the 761st Medium Tank Battalion
prepare for action in the European theater, August 1944.

The Army's policy failed to consider one practical problem: if race was ignored in War Department directives, would black candidates ever be nominated and selected for officer training? Early enrollment figures suggested they would not. Between July 1941, when the schools opened, and October 1941, only seventeen out of the 1,997 students enrolled in candidate schools were Negroes. Only six more Negroes entered during the next two months.[2-90]

Some (p. 049) civil rights spokesmen argued for the establishment of a quota system, and a few Negroes even asked for a return to segregated schools to insure a more plentiful supply of black officers. Even before the schools opened, Judge Hastie warned Secretary Stimson that any effective integration plan "required a directive to Corps Area Commanders indicating that Negroes are to be selected in numbers exactly or approximately indicated for particular schools."[2-91] But the planners had recommended the integrated schools precisely to avoid a quota system. They were haunted by the Army's 1917 experience, although the chief of the Army staff's Organizations Division did not allude to these misgivings when he answered Judge Hastie. He argued that a quota could not be defended on any grounds "except those of a political nature" and would be "race discrimination against the whites."[2-92]

General Marshall agreed that racial parity could not be achieved at the expense of commissioning unqualified men, but he was equally adamant about providing equal opportunity for all qualified candidates, black and white. He won support for his position from some of the civil rights advocates.[2-93] These arguments may not have swayed Hastie, but in the end he dropped the idea of a regular quota system, judging it unworkable in the case of the officer candidate schools. He concluded that many commanders approached the selection of officer candidates with a bias against the Negro, and he recommended that a directive or confidential memorandum be sent to commanders charged with the selection of officer candidates informing them that a certain minimum percentage of black candidates was to be chosen. Hastie's recommendation was ignored, but the widespread refusal of local commanders to approve or transmit applications of Negroes, or even to give them access to appropriate forms, halted when Secretary Stimson and the Army staff made it plain that they expected substantial numbers of Negroes to be sent to the schools.[2-94]

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People meanwhile moved quickly to prove that the demand for a return to segregated schools, made by Edgar G. Brown, president of the United States Government Employees, and broadcaster Fulton Lewis, Jr., enjoyed little backing in the black community. "We respectfully submit," Walter White informed Stimson and Roosevelt, "that no leader considered responsible by intelligent Negro or white Americans would make such a request."[2-95] In support of its stand the NAACP issued a statement signed by many influential black leaders.

WAAC Replacements

WAAC Replacements
training at Fort Huachuca, December 1942.

The (p. 050) segregationists attacked integration of the officer candidate schools for the obvious reasons. A group of Florida congressmen, for example, protested to the Army against the establishment of an integrated Air Corps school at Miami Beach. The War Department received numerous complaints when living quarters at the schools were integrated. The president of the White Supremacy League complained that young white candidates at Fort Benning "have to eat and sleep with Negro candidates," calling it "the most damnable outrage that was ever perpetrated on the youth of the South." To all such complaints the War Department answered that separation was not always possible because of the small number of Negroes involved.[2-96]

In answering these complaints the Army developed its ultimate justification for integrated officer schools: integration was necessary on the grounds of efficiency and economy. As one Army spokesman put it, "our objection to separate schools (p. 051) is based primarily on the fact that black officer candidates are eligible from every branch of the Army, including the Armored Force and tank destroyer battalions, and it would be decidedly uneconomical to attempt to gather in one school the materiel and instructor personnel necessary to give training in all these branches."[2-97]

Officer candidate training was the Army's first formal experiment with integration. Many blacks and whites lived together with a minimum of friction, and, except in flight school, all candidates trained together.[2-98] Yet in some schools the number of black officer candidates made racially separate rooms feasible, and Negroes were usually billeted and messed together. In other instances Army organizations were slow to integrate their officer training. The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, for example, segregated black candidates until late 1942 when Judge Hastie brought the matter to McCloy's attention.[2-99] Nevertheless, the Army's experiment was far more important than its immediate results indicated. It proved that even in the face of considerable opposition the Army was willing to abandon its segregation policy when the issues of economy and efficiency were made sufficiently clear and compelling.

The Army's second experiment with integration came in part from the need for infantry replacements during the Allied advance across Western Europe in the summer and fall of 1944.[2-100] The Ground Force Replacement Command had been for some time converting soldiers from service units to infantry, and even as the Germans launched their counterattack in the Ardennes the command was drawing up plans to release thousands of soldiers in Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee's Communications Zone and train them as infantrymen. These plans left the large reservoir of black manpower in the theater untapped until General Lee suggested that General Dwight D. Eisenhower permit black service troops to volunteer for infantry training and eventual employment as individual replacements. General Eisenhower agreed, and on 26 December Lee issued a call to the black troops for volunteers to share "the privilege of joining our veteran units at the front to deliver the knockout blow." The call was limited to privates in the upper four categories of the Army General Classification Test who had had some infantry training. If noncommissioned officers wanted to apply, they had to accept a reduction in grade. Although patronizing in tone, the plan was a bold departure from War Department policy: "It is planned to assign you without regard to color or race to the units where assistance is most needed, and give you the opportunity of fighting shoulder to shoulder to bring about victory.... Your relatives and friends everywhere have been urging that you be granted this privilege."[2-101]

The (p. 052) revolutionary nature of General Lee's plan was not lost on Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force. Arguing that the circular promising integrated service would embarrass the Army, Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, the chief of staff, recommended that General Eisenhower warn the War Department that civil rights spokesmen might seize on this example to demand wider integration. To avoid future moves that might compromise Army policy, Smith wanted permission to review any Communications Zone statements on Negroes before they were released.

General Eisenhower compromised. Washington was not consulted, and Eisenhower himself revised the circular, eliminating the special call for black volunteers and the promise of integration on an individual basis. He substituted instead a general appeal for volunteers, adding the further qualification that "in the event that the number of suitable negro volunteers exceeds the replacement needs of negro combat units, these men will be suitably incorporated in other organizations so that their service and their fighting spirit may be efficiently utilized."[2-102] This statement was disseminated throughout the European theater.

The Eisenhower revision needed considerable clarification. It mentioned the replacement needs of black combat units, but there were no black infantry units in the theater;[2-103] and the replacement command was not equipped to retrain men for artillery, tank, and tank destroyer units, the types of combat units that did employ Negroes in Europe. The revision also called for volunteers in excess of these needs to be "suitably incorporated in other organizations," but it did not indicate how they would be organized. Eisenhower later made it clear that he preferred to organize the volunteers in groups that could replace white units in the line, but again the replacement command was geared to train individual, not unit, replacements. After considerable discussion and compromise, Eisenhower agreed to have Negroes trained "as members of Infantry rifle platoons familiar with the Infantry rifle platoon weapons." The platoons would be sent for assignment to Army commanders who would provide them with platoon leaders, platoon sergeants, and, if needed, squad leaders.

Unaware of how close they had come to being integrated as individuals, so many Negroes volunteered for combat training and duty that the operations of some service units were threatened. To prevent disrupting these vital operations, the theater limited the number to 2,500, turning down about 3,000 men. Early in January 1945 the volunteers assembled for six weeks of standard infantry conversion training. After training, the new black infantrymen were organized into fifty-three platoons, each under a white platoon leader and sergeant, and were dispatched to the field, two to work with armored divisions and the rest with infantry divisions. Sixteen were shipped to the 6th Army Group, the rest to the 12th (p. 053) Army Group, and all saw action with a total of eleven divisions in the First and Seventh Armies.

Volunteers for Combat in Training

Volunteers for Combat in Training,
47th Reinforcement Depot, February 1945.

In the First Army the black platoons were usually assigned on the basis of three to a division, and the division receiving them normally placed one platoon in each regiment. At the company level, the black platoon generally served to augment the standard organization of three rifle platoons and one heavy weapons platoon. In the Seventh Army, the platoons were organized into provisional companies and attached to infantry battalions in armored divisions. General Davis warned the Seventh Army commander, Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, that the men had not been trained for employment as company units and were not being properly used. The performance of the provisional companies failed to match the performance of the platoons integrated into white companies and their morale was lower.[2-104] At the end of the war the theater made clear to the black volunteers that integration was over. Although a large group was sent to the 69th Infantry Division to be returned home, most were reassigned to black combat or service units in the occupation army.

The experiment with integration of platoons was carefully scrutinized. In May and June 1945, the Research Branch of the Information and Education Division (p. 054) of Eisenhower's theater headquarters made a survey solely to discover what white company-grade officers and platoon sergeants thought of the combat performance of the black rifle platoons. Trained interviewers visited seven infantry divisions and asked the same question of 250 men—all the available company officers and a representative sample of platoon sergeants in twenty-four companies that had had black platoons. In addition, a questionnaire, not to be signed, was submitted to approximately 1,700 white enlisted men in other field forces for the purpose of discovering what their attitudes were toward the use of black riflemen. No Negro was asked his opinion.

More than 80 percent of the white officers and noncommissioned officers who were interviewed reported that the Negroes had performed "very well" in combat; 69 percent of the officers and 83 percent of the noncommissioned officers saw no reason why black infantrymen should not perform as well as white infantrymen if both had the same training and experience. Most reported getting along "very well" with the black volunteers; the heavier the combat shared, the closer and better the relationships. Nearly all the officers questioned admitted that the camaraderie between white and black troops was far better than they had expected. Most enlisted men reported that they had at first disliked and even been apprehensive at the prospect of having black troops in their companies, but three-quarters of them had changed their minds after serving with Negroes in combat, their distrust turning into respect and friendliness. Of the officers and noncommissioned officers, 77 percent had more favorable feelings toward Negroes after serving in close proximity to them, the others reported no change in attitude; not a single individual stated that he had developed a less favorable attitude. A majority of officers approved the idea of organizing Negroes in platoons to serve in white companies; the practice, they said, would stimulate the spirit of competition between races, avoid friction with prejudiced whites, eliminate discrimination, and promote interracial understanding. Familiarity with Negroes dispersed fear of the unknown and bred respect for them among white troops; only those lacking experience with black soldiers were inclined to be suspicious and hostile.[2-105]

General Brehon B. Somervell, commanding general of the Army Service Forces, questioned the advisability of releasing the report. An experiment involving 1,000 volunteers—his figure was inaccurate, actually 2,500 were involved—was hardly, he believed, a conclusive test. Furthermore, organizations such as the NAACP might be encouraged to exert pressure for similar experiments among troops in training in the United States and even in the midst of active operations in the Pacific theater—pressure, he believed, that might hamper training and operations. What mainly concerned Somervell were the political implications. Many members of Congress, newspaper editors, and others who had given strong support to the War Department were, he contended, "vigorously opposed" to integration under any conditions. A strong adverse (p. 055) reaction from this influential segment of the nation's opinion-makers might alienate public support for a postwar program of universal military training.[2-106]

General Omar N. Bradley, the senior American field commander in Europe, took a different tack. Writing for the theater headquarters and drawing upon such sources of information as the personal observations of some officers, General Bradley disparaged the significance of the experiment. Most of the black platoons, he observed, had participated mainly in mopping-up operations or combat against a disorganized enemy. Nor could the soldiers involved in the experiment be considered typical, in Bradley's opinion. They were volunteers of above average intelligence according to their commanders.[2-107] Finally, Bradley contended that, while no racial trouble emerged during combat, the mutual friendship fostered by fighting a common enemy was threatened when the two races were closely associated in rest and recreational areas. Nevertheless, he agreed that the performance of the platoons was satisfactory enough to warrant continuing the experiment but recommended the use of draftees with average qualifications. At the same time, he drew away from further integration by suggesting that the experiment be expanded to include employment of entire black rifle companies in white regiments to avoid some of the social difficulties encountered in rest areas.[2-108]

General Marshall, the Chief of Staff, agreed with both Somervell and Bradley. Although he thought that the possibility of integrating black units into white units should be "followed up," he believed that the survey should not be made public because "the conditions under which the [black] platoons were organized and employed were most unusual."[2-109] Too many of the circumstances of the experiment were special—the voluntary recruitment of men for frontline duty, the relatively high number of noncommissioned officers among the volunteers, and the fact that the volunteers were slightly older and scored higher in achievement tests than the average black soldier. Moreover, throughout the experiment some degree of segregation, with all its attendant psychological and morale problems, had been maintained.

The platoon experiment was illuminating in several respects. The fact that so late in the war thousands of Negroes volunteered to trade the safety of the rear for duty at the front said something about black patriotism and perhaps something about the Negro's passion for equality. It also demonstrated that, when (p. 056) properly trained and motivated and treated with fairness, blacks, like whites, performed with bravery and distinction in combat. Finally, the experiment successfully attacked one of the traditionalists' shibboleths, that close association of the races in Army units would cause social dissension.

Road Repairmen

Road Repairmen,
Company A, 279th Engineer Battalion, near Rimberg, Germany, December 1944.

It is now apparent that World War II had little immediate effect on the quest for racial equality in the Army. The Double V campaign against fascism abroad and racism at home achieved considerably less than the activists had hoped. Although Negroes shared in the prosperity brought by war industries and some 800,000 of them served in uniform, segregation remained the policy of the Army throughout the war, just as Jim Crow still ruled in large areas of the country. Probably the campaign's most important achievement was that during the war the civil rights groups, in organizing for the fight against discrimination, began to gather strength and develop techniques that would be useful in the decades to come. The Army's experience with black units also convinced many that segregation was a questionable policy when the country needed to mobilize fully.

For its part the Army defended the separation of the races in the name of military efficiency and claimed that it had achieved a victory over racial discrimination by providing equal treatment and job opportunity for black soldiers. But the Army's campaign had also been less than completely successful. True, the Army had provided specialist training and opened job opportunities heretofore denied to thousands of Negroes, and it had a cadre of potential leaders in the hundreds of experienced black officers. For the times, the Army was a progressive minority employer. Even so, as an institution it had defended the separate but equal doctrine and had failed to come to grips with segregation. Under segregation the Army was compelled to combine large numbers of undereducated and undertrained black soldiers in units that were often inefficient and sometimes surplus to its needs. This system in turn robbed the Army of the full services of the educated and able black soldier, who had every reason to feel restless and rebellious.

The Army received no end of advice on its manpower policy during the war. Civil rights spokesmen continually pointed out that segregation itself was discriminatory, and Judge Hastie in particular hammered on this proposition before (p. 057) the highest officials of the War Department. In fact Hastie's recommendations, criticisms, and arguments crystallized the demands of civil rights leaders. The Army successfully resisted the proposition when its Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies under John McCloy modified but did not appreciably alter the segregation policy. It was a predictable course. The Army's racial policy was more than a century old, and leaders considered it dangerous if not impossible to revise traditional ways during a global war involving so many citizens with pronounced and different views on race.

What both the civil rights activists and the Army's leaders tended to ignore during the war was that segregation was inefficient. The myriad problems associated with segregated units, in contrast to the efficient operation of the integrated officer candidate schools and the integrated infantry platoons in Europe, were overlooked in the atmosphere of charges and denials concerning segregation and discrimination. John McCloy was an exception. He had clearly become dissatisfied with the inefficiency of the Army's policy, and in the week following the Japanese surrender he questioned Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal on the Navy's experiments with integration. "It has always seemed to me," he concluded, "that we never put enough thought into the matter of making a real military asset out of the very large cadre of Negro personnel we received from the country."[2-110] Although segregation persisted, the fact that it hampered military efficiency was the hope of those who looked for a change in the Army's policy.

CHAPTER 3 (p. 058)

World War II: The Navy

The period between the world wars marked the nadir of the Navy's relations with black America. Although the exclusion of Negroes that began with a clause introduced in enlistment regulations in 1922 lasted but a decade, black participation in the Navy remained severely restricted during the rest of the inter-war period. In June 1940 the Navy had 4,007 black personnel, 2.3 percent of its nearly 170,000-man total.[3-1] All were enlisted men, and with the exception of six regular rated seamen, lone survivors of the exclusion clause, all were steward's mates, labeled by the black press "seagoing bellhops."

The Steward's Branch, composed entirely of enlisted Negroes and oriental aliens, mostly Filipinos, was organized outside the Navy's general service. Its members carried ratings up to chief petty officer, but wore distinctive uniforms and insignia, and even chief stewards never exercised authority over men rated in the general naval service. Stewards manned the officers' mess and maintained the officers' billets on board ship, and, in some instances, took care of the quarters of high officials in the shore establishment. Some were also engaged in mess management, menu planning, and the purchase of supplies. Despite the fact that their enlistment contracts restricted their training and duties, stewards, like everyone else aboard ship, were assigned battle stations, including positions at the guns and on the bridge. One of these stewards, Dorie (Doris) Miller, became a hero on the first day of the war when he manned a machine gun on the burning deck of the USS Arizona and destroyed two enemy planes.[3-2]

By the end of December 1941 the number of Negroes in the Navy had increased by slightly more than a thousand men to 5,026, or 2.4 percent of the whole, but they continued to be excluded from all positions except that of steward.[3-3] It was not surprising that civil rights organizations and their supporters in Congress demanded a change in policy.

Development of a Wartime Policy (p. 059)

At first the new secretary, Frank Knox, and the Navy's professional leaders resisted demands for a change. Together with Secretary of War Stimson, Knox had joined the cabinet in July 1940 when Roosevelt was attempting to defuse a foreign policy debate that threatened to explode during the presidential campaign.[3-4] For a major cabinet officer, Knox's powers were severely circumscribed. He had little knowledge of naval affairs, and the President, himself once an Assistant Secretary of the Navy, often went over his head to deal directly with the naval bureaus on shipbuilding programs and manpower problems as well as the disposition of the fleet. But Knox was a personable man and a forceful speaker, and he was particularly useful to the President in congressional liaison and public relations. Roosevelt preferred to work through the secretary in dealing with the delicate question of black participation in the Navy. Knox himself was fortunate in his immediate official family. James V. Forrestal became under secretary in August 1940; during the next year Ralph A. Bard, a Chicago investment banker, joined the department as assistant secretary, and Adlai E. Stevenson became special assistant.

Able as these men were, Frank Knox, like most new secretaries unfamiliar with the operations and traditions of the vast department, was from the beginning heavily dependent on his naval advisers. These were the chiefs of the powerful bureaus and the prominent senior admirals of the General Board, the Navy's highest advisory body.[3-5] Generally these men were ardent military traditionalists, and, despite the progressive attitude of the secretary's highest civilian advisers, changes in the racial policy of the Navy were to be glacially slow.

Dorie Miller

Dorie Miller

The Bureau of Navigation, which was charged with primary responsibility for all personnel matters, was opposed to change in the racial composition of the Navy. Less than two weeks after Knox's appointment, it prepared for his signature a letter to Lieutenant Governor Charles Poletti of New York defending the Navy's policy. The bureau reasoned that since segregation was impractical, exclusion was necessary. Experience had proved, the bureau claimed, that when given supervisory responsibility the Negro was unable to maintain discipline among white subordinates with the result that teamwork, harmony, and ship's efficiency suffered. The Negro, therefore, had to be segregated from the white sailor. All-black units were impossible, the bureau argued, because the (p. 060) service's training and distribution system demanded that a man in any particular rating be available for any duty required of that rating in any ship or activity in the Navy. The Navy had experimented with segregated crews after World War I, manning one ship with an all-Filipino crew and another with an all-Samoan crew, but the bureau was not satisfied with the result and reasoned that ships with black crews would be no more satisfactory.[3-6]

During the next weeks Secretary Knox warmed to the subject, speaking of the difficulty faced by the Navy when men had to live aboard ship together. He was convinced that "it is no kindness to Negroes to thrust them upon men of the white race," and he suggested that the Negro might make his major contribution to the armed forces in the Army's black regimental organizations.[3-7] Confronted with widespread criticism of this policy, however, Knox asked the Navy's General Board in September 1940 to give him "some reasons why colored persons should not be enlisted for general service."[3-8] He accepted the board's reasons for continued exclusion of Negroes—generally an extension of the ones advanced in the Poletti letter—and during the next eighteen months these reasons, endorsed by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Bureau of Navigation, were used as the department's standard answer to questions on race.[3-9] They were used at the White House conference on 18 June 1941 when, in the presence of black leaders, Knox told President Roosevelt that the Navy could do nothing about taking Negroes into the general service "because men live in such intimacy aboard ship that we simply can't enlist Negroes above the rank of messman."[3-10]

Admiral King and Secretary Knox

Admiral King and Secretary Knox
on the USS Augusta.

The White House conference revealed an interesting contrast between Roosevelt and Knox. Whatever his personal feelings, Roosevelt agreed with Knox (p. 061) that integration of the Navy was an impractical step in wartime, but where Knox saw exclusion from general service as the alternative to integration Roosevelt sought a compromise. He suggested that the Navy "make a beginning" by putting some "good Negro bands" aboard battleships. Under such intimate living conditions white and black would learn to know and respect each other, and "then we can move on from there."[3-11] In effect the President was trying to lead the Navy toward a policy similar to that announced by the Army in 1940. While his suggestion about musicians was ignored by Secretary Knox, the search for a middle way between exclusion and integration had begun.

The general public knew nothing of this search, and in the heightened atmosphere of early war days, charged with unending propaganda about the four freedoms and the forces of democracy against fascism, the administration's racial attitudes were being questioned daily by civil rights spokesmen and by some Democratic politicians.[3-12] As protest against the Navy's racial policy mounted, Secretary Knox turned once again to his staff for reassurance. In July 1941 he appointed a committee consisting of Navy and Marine Corps personnel officers and including Addison Walker, a special assistant to Assistant Secretary Bard, to conduct a general investigation of that policy. The committee took six months to complete its study and submitted both a majority and minority report.

The majority report marshaled a long list of arguments to prove that exclusion of the Negro was not discriminatory, but "a means of promoting efficiency, dependability, and flexibility of the Navy as a whole." It concluded that no change in policy was necessary since "within the limitations of the characteristics of members of certain races, the enlisted personnel of the Naval Establishment is representative of all the citizens of the United States."[3-13] The majority invoked past experience, efficiency, and patriotism to support the status quo, but its chorus of reasons for excluding Negroes sounded incongruous amid the patriotic din and call to colors that followed Pearl Harbor.

Crew Members of Uss Argonaut

Crew Members of Uss Argonaut
relax and read mail, Pearl Harbor, 1942.

Demonstrating (p. 062) changing social attitudes and also reflecting the compromise solution suggested by the President in June, Addison Walker's minority report recommended that a limited number of Negroes be enlisted for general duty "on some type of patrol or other small vessel assigned to a particular yard or station." While the enlistments could frankly be labeled experiments, Walker argued that such a step would mute black criticism by promoting Negroes out of the servant class. The program would also provide valuable data in case the Navy was later directed to accept Negroes through Selective Service. Reasoning that a man's right to fight for his country was probably more fundamental than his right to vote, Walker insisted that the drive for the rights and privileges of black citizens was a social force that could not be ignored by the Navy. Indeed, he added, "the reconciliation of social friction within our own country" should be a special concern of the armed forces in wartime.[3-14]

Although the committee's majority won the day, its arguments were overtaken by events that followed Pearl Harbor. The NAACP, viewing the Navy's rejection of black volunteers in the midst of the intensive recruiting campaign, again took the issue to the White House. The President, in turn, asked the Fair Employment Practices Committee to consider the case.[3-15] Committee chairman Mark Ethridge conferred with Assistant Secretary Bard, pointing out that since Negroes had been eligible for general duty in World War I, the Navy had actually taken a step backward when it restricted them to the Messman's Branch. The committee was even willing to pay the price of segregation to insure the Negro's return to general duty. Ethridge recommended that the Navy amend its policy and accept Negroes for use at Caribbean stations or on harbor craft.[3-16] Criticism of Navy policy, hitherto emanating almost exclusively from the civil rights (p. 063) organizations and a few congressmen, now broadened to include another government agency. As President Roosevelt no doubt expected, the Fair Employment Practices Committee had come out in support of his compromise solution for the Navy.

But the committee had no jurisdiction over the armed services, and Secretary Knox continued to assert that with a war to win he could not risk "crews that are impaired in efficiency because of racial prejudice." He admitted to his friend, conservationist Gifford Pinchot, that the problem would have to be faced someday, but not during a war. Seemingly in response to Walker and Ethridge, he declared that segregated general service was impossible since enough men with the skills necessary to operate a war vessel were unavailable even "if you had the entire Negro population of the United States to choose from." As for limiting Negroes to steward duties, he explained that this policy avoided the chance that Negroes might rise to command whites, "a thing which instantly provokes serious trouble."[3-17] Faced in wartime with these arguments for efficiency, Assistant Secretary Bard could only promise Ethridge that black enlistment would be taken under consideration.

At this point the President again stepped in. On 15 January 1942 he asked his beleaguered secretary to consider the whole problem once more and suggested a course of action: "I think that with all the Navy activities, BuNav might invent something that colored enlistees could do in addition to the rating of messman."[3-18] The secretary passed the task on to the General Board, asking that it develop a plan for recruiting 5,000 Negroes in the general service.[3-19]

When the General Board met on 23 January to consider the secretary's request, it became apparent that the minority report on the role of Negroes in the Navy had gained at least one convert among the senior officers. One board member, the Inspector General of the Navy, Rear Adm. Charles P. Snyder, repeated the arguments lately advanced by Addison Walker. He suggested that the board consider employing Negroes in some areas outside the servant class: in the Musician's Branch, for example, because "the colored race is very musical and they are versed in all forms of rhythm," in the Aviation Branch where the Army had reported some success in employing Negroes, and on auxiliaries and minor vessels, especially transports. Snyder noted that these schemes would involve the creation of training schools, rigidly segregated at first, and that the whole program would be "troublesome and require tact, patience, and tolerance" on the part of those in charge. But, he added, "we have so many difficulties to surmount anyhow that one more possibly wouldn't swell the total very much." Foreseeing that segregation would become the focal point of black protest, he argued that the Navy had to begin accepting Negroes somewhere, and it might as well begin with a segregated general service.

Adamant (p. 064) in its opposition to any change in the Navy's policy, the Bureau of Navigation ignored Admiral Snyder's suggestions. The spokesman for the bureau warned that the 5,000 Negroes under consideration were just an opening wedge. "The sponsors of the program," Capt. Kenneth Whiting contended, "desire full equality on the part of the Negro and will not rest content until they obtain it." In the end, he predicted, Negroes would be on every man-of-war in direct proportion to their percentage of the population. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, echoed the bureau's sentiments. He viewed the issue of black enlistments as crucial.

If we are defeated we must not close our eyes to the fact that once in they [Negroes] will be strengthened in their effort to force themselves into every activity we have. If they are not satisfied to be messmen, they will not be satisfied to go into the construction or labor battalions. Don't forget the colleges are turning out a large number of well-educated Negroes. I don't know how long we will be able to keep them out of the V-7 class. I think not very long.

The commandant called the enlistment of Negroes "absolutely tragic"; Negroes had every opportunity, he added, "to satisfy their aspiration to serve in the Army," and their desire to enter the naval service was largely an effort "to break into a club that doesn't want them."

The board heard similar sentiments from representatives of the Bureau of Aeronautics, the Bureau of Yards and Docks, and, with reservations, from the Coast Guard. Confronted with such united opposition from the powerful bureaus, the General Board capitulated. On 3 February it reported to the secretary that it was unable to submit a plan and strongly recommended that the current policy be allowed to stand. The board stated that "if, in the opinion of higher authority, political pressure is such as to require the enlistment of these people for general service, let it be for that." If restriction of Negroes to the Messman's Branch was discrimination, the board added, "it was but part and parcel of a similar discrimination throughout the United States."[3-20]

Secretary Knox was certainly not one to dispute the board's findings, but it was a different story in the White House. President Roosevelt refused to accept the argument that the only choice lay between exclusion in the Messman's Branch and total integration in the general service. His desire to avoid the race issue was understandable; the war was in its darkest days, and whatever his aspirations for American society, the President was convinced that, while some change was necessary, "to go the whole way at one fell swoop would seriously impair the general average efficiency of the Navy."[3-21] He wanted the board to study the question further, noting that there were some additional tasks and some (p. 065) special assignments that could be worked out for the Negro that "would not inject into the whole personnel of the Navy the race question."[3-22]

Messmen Volunteer As Gunners

Messmen Volunteer As Gunners,
Pacific task force, July 1942.

The Navy got the message. Armed with these instructions from the White House, the General Board called on the bureaus and other agencies to furnish lists of stations or assignments where Negroes could be used in other than the Messman's Branch, adding that it was "unnecessary and inadvisable" to emphasize further the undesirability of recruiting Negroes. Freely interpreting the President's directive, the board decided that its proposals had to provide for segregation in order to prevent the injection of the race issue into the Navy. It rejected the idea of enlisting Negroes in such selected ratings as musician and carpenter's mate or designating a branch for Negroes (the possibility of an all-black aviation department for a carrier was discussed). Basing its decision on the plans quickly submitted by the bureaus, the General Board recommended a course that it felt offered "least disadvantages and the least difficulty of accomplishment as a war measure": the formation of black units in the shore establishment, black crews for naval district local defense craft and selected Coast (p. 066) Guard cutters, black regiments in the Seabees, and composite battalions in the Marine Corps. The board asked that the Navy Department be granted wide latitude in deciding the number of Negroes to be accepted as well as their rate of enlistment and the method of recruiting, training, and assignment.[3-23] The President agreed to the plan, but balked at the board's last request. "I think this is a matter," he told Secretary Knox, "to be determined by you and me."[3-24]

The two-year debate over the admission of Negroes ended just in time, for the opposition to the Navy's policy was enlisting new allies daily. The national press made the expected invidious comparisons when Joe Louis turned over his share of the purse from the Louis-Baer fight to Navy Relief, and Wendell Willkie in a well-publicized speech at New York's Freedom House excoriated the Navy's racial practices as a "mockery" of democracy.[3-25] But these were the last shots fired. On 7 April 1942 Secretary Knox announced the Navy's capitulation. The Navy would accept 277 black volunteers per week—it was not yet drafting anyone—for enlistment in all ratings of the general service of the reserve components of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Their actual entry would have to await the construction of suitable, meaning segregated, facilities, but the Navy's goal for the first year was 14,000 Negroes in the general service.[3-26]

Members of the black community received the news with mixed emotions. Some reluctantly accepted the plan as a first step; the NAACP's Crisis called it "progress toward a more enlightened point of view." Others, like the National Negro Congress, complimented Knox for his "bold, patriotic action."[3-27] But almost all were quick to point out that the black sailor would be segregated, limited to the rank of petty officer, and, except as a steward, barred from sea duty.[3-28] The Navy's plan offered all the disadvantages of the Army's system with none of the corresponding advantages for participation and advancement. The NAACP hammered away at the segregation angle, informing its public that the old system, which had fathered inequalities and humiliations in the Army and in civilian life, was now being followed by the Navy. A. Philip Randolph complained that the change in Navy policy merely "accepts and extends and consolidates the policy of Jim-Crowism in the Navy as well as proclaims it as an accepted, recognized (p. 067) government ideology that the Negro is inferior to the white man."[3-29] The editors of the National Urban League's Opportunity concluded that, "faced with the great opportunity to strengthen the forces of Democracy, the Navy Department chose to affirm the charge that Japan is making against America to the brown people ... that the so-called Four Freedoms enunciated in the great 'Atlantic Charter' were for white men only."[3-30]

A Segregated Navy

With considerable alacrity the Navy set a practical course for the employment of its black volunteers. On 21 April 1942 Secretary Knox approved a plan for training Negroes at Camp Barry, an isolated section of the Great Lakes Training Center. Later renamed Camp Robert Smalls after a black naval hero of the Civil War, the camp not only offered the possibility of practically unlimited expansion but, as the Bureau of Navigation put it, made segregation "less obvious" to recruits. The secretary also approved the use of facilities at Hampton Institute, the well-known black school in Virginia, as an advanced training school for black recruits.[3-31]

Black enlistments began on 1 June 1942, and black volunteers started entering Great Lakes later that month in classes of 277 men. At the same time the Navy opened enlistments for an unlimited number of black Seabees and messmen. Lt. Comdr. Daniel Armstrong commanded the recruit program at Camp Smalls. An Annapolis graduate, son of the founder of Hampton Institute, Armstrong first came to the attention of Knox in March 1942 when he submitted a plan for the employment of black sailors that the secretary considered practical.[3-32] Under Armstrong's energetic leadership, black recruits received training that was in some respects superior to that afforded whites. For all his success, however, Armstrong was strongly criticized, especially by educated Negroes who resented his theories of education. Imbued with the paternalistic attitude of Tuskegee and Hampton, Armstrong saw the Negro as possessing a separate culture more attuned to vocational training. He believed that Negroes needed special treatment and discipline in a totally segregated environment free from white competition. Educated Negroes, on the other hand, saw in this special treatment another form of discrimination.[3-33]

Electrician Mates
string power lines in the Central Pacific.

During the first six months of the new segregated training program, before the great influx of Negroes from the draft, the Navy set the training period at twelve weeks. Later, when it had reluctantly abandoned the longer period, the Navy discovered that the regular eight-week course was sufficient. Approximately 31 percent of those graduating from the recruit course were qualified for Class (p. 068) A schools and entered advanced classes to receive training that would normally lead to petty officer rating for the top graduates and prepare men for assignment to naval stations and local defense and district craft. There they would serve in such class "A" specialties as radioman, signalman, and yeoman and the other occupational specialties such as machinist, mechanic, carpenter, electrician, cook, and baker.[3-34] Some of these classes were held at Hampton, but, as the number of black recruits increased, the majority remained at Camp Smalls for advanced training.

The rest of the recruit graduates, those unqualified for advanced schooling, were divided. Some went directly to naval stations and local defense and district craft where they relieved whites as seaman, second class, and fireman, third class, and as trainees in specialties that required no advanced schooling; the rest, approximately eighty men per week, went to naval ammunition depots as unskilled laborers.[3-35]

The Navy proceeded to assimilate the black volunteers along these lines, suffering few of the personnel problems that plagued the Army in the first months of the war. In contrast to the Army's chaotic situation, caused by the thousands of black recruits streaming in from Selective Service, the Navy's plans for its volunteers were disrupted only because qualified Negroes showed little inclination to flock to the Navy standard, and more than half of those who did were rejected. The Bureau of Naval Personnel[3-36] reported that during the first three weeks of recruitment only 1,261 Negroes volunteered for general service, and 58 percent of these had to be rejected for physical and other reasons. The Chief of Naval Personnel, Rear Adm. Randall Jacobs, was surprised at the small number of volunteers, a figure far below the planners' expectations, and his surprise turned to concern in the next months as the seventeen-year-old volunteer inductees, the primary target of the armed forces recruiters, continued to choose the Army over the Navy at a ratio of 10 to 1.[3-37] The Navy's personnel officials agreed that they had to attract their proper share of intelligent and able Negroes but (p. 069) seemed unable to isolate the cause of the disinterest. Admiral Jacobs blamed it on a lack of publicity; the bureau's historians, perhaps unaware of the Navy's nineteenth century experience with black seamen, later attributed it to Negroes' "relative unfamiliarity with the sea or the large inland waters and their consequent fear of the water."[3-38]

The fact was, of course, that Negroes shunned the Navy because of its recent reputation as the exclusive preserve of white America. Only when the Navy began assigning black recruiting specialists to the numerous naval districts and using black chief petty officers, reservists from World War I general service, at recruiting centers to explain the new opportunities for Negroes in the Navy was the bureau able to overcome some of the young men's natural reluctance to volunteer. By 1 February 1943 the Navy had 26,909 Negroes (still 2 percent of the total enlisted): 6,662 in the general service; 2,020 in the Seabees; and 19,227, over two-thirds of the total, in the Steward's Branch.[3-39]

The smooth and efficient distribution of black recruits was short-lived. Under pressure from the Army, the War Manpower Commission, and in particular the White House, the Navy was forced into a sudden and significant expansion of its black recruit program. The Army had long objected to the Navy's recruitment method, and as early as February 1942 Secretary Stimson was calling the volunteer recruitment system a waste of manpower.[3-40] He was even more direct when he complained to President Roosevelt that through voluntary recruiting the Navy had avoided acceptance of any considerable number of Negroes. Consequently, the Army was now faced with the possibility of having to accept an even greater proportion of Negroes "with adverse effect on its combat efficiency." The solution to this problem, as Stimson saw it, was for the Navy to take its recruits from Selective Service.[3-41] Stimson failed to win his point. The President accepted the Navy's argument that segregation would be difficult to maintain on board ship. "If the Navy living conditions on board ship were similar to the Army living conditions on land," he wrote Stimson, "the problem would be easier but the circumstances ... being such as they are, I feel that it is best to continue the present system at this time."[3-42]

But the battle over racial quotas was only beginning. The question of the number of Negroes in the Navy was only part of the much broader considerations and conflicts over manpower policy that finally led the President, on 5 December 1942, to direct the discontinuance in all services of volunteer enlistment of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight.[3-43] Beginning in February 1943 all men in this age group would be obtained through Selective Service. The order also placed Selective Service under the War Manpower Commission.

The (p. 070) Navy issued its first call for inductees from Selective Service in February 1943, adopting the Army's policy of placing its requisition on a racial basis and specifying the number of whites and blacks needed for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The Bureau of Naval Personnel planned to continue its old monthly quota of about 1,200 Negroes for general service and 1,500 for the Messman's Branch. Secretary Knox explained to the President that it would be impossible for the Navy to take more Negroes without resorting to mixed crews in the fleet, which, Knox reminded Roosevelt, was a policy "contrary to the President's program." The President agreed with Knox and told him so to advise Maj. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, Director of Selective Service.[3-44]

The problem of drafting men by race was a major concern of the Bureau of Selective Service and its parent organization, the War Manpower Commission. At a time when a general shortage of manpower was developing and industry was beginning to feel the effects of the draft, Negroes still made up only 6 percent of the armed forces, a little over half their percentage of the population, and almost all of these were in the Army. The chairman of the War Manpower Commission, Paul V. McNutt, explained to Secretary Knox as he had to Secretary Stimson that the practice of placing separate calls for white and black registrants could not be justified. Not only were there serious social and legal implications in the existing draft practices, he pointed out, but the Selective Service Act itself prohibited racial discrimination. It was necessary, therefore, to draft men by order number and not by color.[3-45]

On top of this blow, the Navy came under fire from another quarter. The President was evidently still thinking about Negroes in the Navy. He wrote to the secretary on 22 February:

I guess you were dreaming or maybe I was dreaming if Randall Jacobs is right in regard to what I am supposed to have said about employment of negroes in the Navy. If I did say that such employment should be stopped, I must have been talking in my sleep. Most decidedly we must continue the employment of negroes in the Navy, and I do not think it the least bit necessary to put mixed crews on the ships. I can find a thousand ways of employing them without doing so.

The point or the thing is this. There is going to be a great deal of feeling if the Government in winning this war does not employ approximately 10% of negroes—their actual percentage to the total population. The Army is nearly up to this percentage but the Navy is so far below it that it will be deeply criticized by anybody who wants to check into the details.

Perhaps a check by you showing exactly where all white enlisted men are serving and where all colored enlisted men are serving will show you the great number of places where colored men could serve, where they are not serving now—shore duty of all kinds, together with the handling of many kinds of yard craft.

You know the headache we have had about this and the reluctance of the Navy to have any negroes. You and I have had to veto that Navy reluctance and I think we have to do it again.[3-46]

In (p. 071) an effort to save the quota concept, the Bureau of Naval Personnel ground out new figures that would raise the current call of 2,700 Negroes per month to 5,000 in April and 7,350 for each of the remaining months of 1943. Armed with these figures, Secretary Knox was able to promise Commissioner McNutt that 10 percent of the men inducted for the rest of 1943 would be Negroes, although separate calls had to be continued for the time being to permit adjusting the flow of Negroes to the expansion of facilities.[3-47] In other words, the secretary promised to accept 71,900 black draftees in 1943; he did not promise to increase the black strength of the Navy to 10 percent of the total.

Commissioner McNutt understood the distinction and found the Navy's offer wanting for two reasons. The proposed schedule was inadequate to absorb the backlog of black registrants who should have been inducted into the armed services, and it did not raise the percentage of Negroes in the Navy to a figure comparable to their strength in the national population. McNutt wanted the Navy to draft at least 125,000 Negroes before January 1944, and he insisted that the practice of placing separate calls be terminated "as soon as feasible."[3-48] The Navy finally struck a compromise with the commission, agreeing that up to 14,150 Negroes a month would be inducted for the rest of 1943 to reach the 125,000 figure by January 1944.[3-49] The issue of separate draft calls for Negroes and whites remained in abeyance while the services made common cause against the commission by insisting that the orderly absorption of Negroes demanded a regular program that could only be met by maintaining the quota system.

Total black enlistments never reached 10 percent of the Navy's wartime enlisted strength but remained nearer the 5 percent mark. But this figure masks the Navy's racial picture in the later years of the war after it became dependent on Selective Service. The Navy drafted 150,955 Negroes during the war, 11.1 percent of all the men it drafted. In 1943 alone the Navy placed calls with Selective Service for 116,000 black draftees. Although Selective Service was unable to fill the monthly request completely, the Navy received 77,854 black draftees (versus 672,437 whites) that year, a 240 percent rise over the 1942 black enlistment rate.[3-50]

Although it wrestled for several months with the problem of distributing the increased number of black draftees, the Bureau of Naval Personnel could invent nothing new. The Navy, Knox told President Roosevelt, would continue to segregate Negroes and restrict their service to certain occupations. Its increased black strength would be absorbed in twenty-seven new black Seabee battalions, in which Negroes would serve overseas as stevedores; in black crews for harbor craft and local defense forces; and in billets for cooks and port hands. The rest would (p. 072) be sent to shore stations for guard and miscellaneous duties in concentrations up to about 50 percent of the total station strength. The President approved the Navy's proposals, and the distribution of Negroes followed these lines.[3-51]

To smooth the racial adjustments implicit in these plans, the Bureau of Naval Personnel developed two operating rules: Negroes would be assigned only where need existed, and, whenever possible, those from northern communities would not be used in the south. These rules caused some peculiar adjustments in administration. Negroes were not assigned to naval districts for distribution according to the discretion of the commander, as were white recruits. Rather, after conferring with local commanders, the bureau decided on the number of Negroes to be included in station complements and the types of jobs they would fill. It then assigned the men to duty accordingly, and the districts were instructed not to change the orders without consulting the bureau. Subsequently the bureau reinforced this rule by enjoining the commanders to use Negroes in the ratings for which they had been trained and by sending bureau representatives to the various commands to check on compliance.

Some planners feared that the concentration of Negroes at shore stations might prove detrimental to efficiency and morale. Proposals were circulated in the Bureau of Naval Personnel for the inclusion of Negroes in small numbers in the crews of large combat ships—for example, they might be used as firemen and ordinary seamen on the new aircraft carriers—but Admiral Jacobs rejected the recommendations.[3-52] The Navy was not yet ready to try integration, it seemed, even though racial disturbances were becoming a distinct possibility in 1943. For as Negroes became a larger part of the Navy, they also became a greater source of tension. The reasons for the tension were readily apparent. Negroes were restricted for the most part to shore duty, concentrated in large groups and assigned to jobs with little prestige and few chances of promotion. They were excluded from the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the Nurse Corps, and the commissioned ranks. And they were rigidly segregated.

Although the Navy boasted that Negroes served in every rating and at every task, in fact almost all were used in a limited range of occupations. Denied general service assignments on warships, trained Negroes were restricted to the relatively few billets open in the harbor defense, district, and small craft service. Although assigning Negroes to these duties met the President's request for variety of opportunity, the small craft could employ only 7,700 men at most, a minuscule part of the Navy's black strength.

Most Negroes performed humbler duties. By mid-1944 over 38,000 black sailors were serving as mess stewards, cooks, and bakers. These jobs remained in the Negro's eyes a symbol of his second-class citizenship in the naval establishment. Under (p. 073) pressure to provide more stewards to serve the officers whose number multiplied in the early months of the war, recruiters had netted all the men they could for that separate duty. Often recruiters took in many as stewards who were equipped by education and training for better jobs, and when these men were immediately put into uniforms and trained on the job at local naval stations the result was often dismaying. The Navy thus received poor service as well as unwelcome publicity for maintaining a segregated servants' branch. In an effort to standardize the training of messmen, the Bureau of Naval Personnel established a stewards school in the spring of 1943 at Norfolk and later one at Bainbridge, Maryland. The change in training did little to improve the standards of the service and much to intensify the feeling of isolation among many stewards.

Laborers at Naval Ammunition Depot.

Laborers at Naval Ammunition Depot.
Sailors passing 5-inch canisters, St. Julien's Creek, Virginia.

Another 12,000 Negroes served as artisans and laborers at overseas bases. Over 7,000 of these were Seabees, who, with the exception of two regular construction battalions that served with distinction in the Pacific, were relegated to "special" battalions stevedoring cargo and supplies. The rest were laborers in base companies assigned to the South Pacific area. These units were commanded by white officers, and almost all the petty officers were white.

Approximately half the Negroes in the Navy were detailed to shore billets within the continental United States. Most worked as laborers at ammunition or supply (p. 074) depots, at air stations, and at section bases,[3-53] concentrated in large all-black groups and sometimes commanded by incompetent white officers.[3-54]

Seabees in the South Pacific

Seabees in the South Pacific
righting an undermined water tank.

While some billets existed in practically every important rating for graduates of the segregated specialty schools, these jobs were so few that black specialists were often assigned instead to unskilled laboring jobs.[3-55] Some of these men were among the best educated Negroes in the Navy, natural leaders capable of articulating their dissatisfaction. They resented being barred from the fighting, and their resentment, spreading through the thousands of Negroes in the shore establishment, was a prime cause of racial tension.

No black women had been admitted to the Navy. Race was not mentioned in the legislation establishing the WAVES in 1942, but neither was exclusion on account of color expressly forbidden. The WAVES and the Women's Reserve of both the Coast Guard (SPARS) and the Marine Corps therefore celebrated their second birthday exclusively white. The Navy Nurse Corps was also totally white. In answer to protests passed to the service through Eleanor Roosevelt, the Navy admitted in November 1943 that it had a shortage of 500 nurses, but since another (p. 075) 500 white nurses were under indoctrination and training, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery explained, "the question relative to the necessity for accepting colored personnel in this category is not apparent."[3-56]

Another major cause of unrest among black seamen was the matter of rank and promotion. With the exception of the Coast Guard, the naval establishment had no black officers in 1943, and none were contemplated. Nor was there much opportunity for advancement in the ranks. Barred from service in the fleet, the nonrated seamen faced strong competition for the limited number of petty officer positions in the shore establishment. In consequence, morale throughout the ranks deteriorated.

The constant black complaint, and the root of the Navy's racial problem, was segregation. It was especially hard on young black recruits who had never experienced legal segregation in civilian life and on the "talented tenth," the educated Negroes, who were quickly frustrated by a policy that decided opportunity and assignment on the basis of color. They particularly resented segregation in housing, messing, and recreation. Here segregation off the job, officially sanctioned, made manifest by signs distinguishing facilities for white and black, and enforced by military as well as civilian police, was a daily reminder for the Negro of the Navy's discrimination.

Such discrimination created tension in the ranks that periodically released itself in racial disorder. The first sign of serious unrest occurred in June 1943 when over half the 640 Negroes of the Naval Ammunition Depot at St. Julien's Creek, Virginia, rioted against alleged discrimination in segregated seating for a radio show. In July, 744 Negroes of the 80th Construction Battalion staged a protest over segregation on a transport in the Caribbean. Yet, naval investigators cited leadership problems as a major factor in these and subsequent incidents, and at least one commanding officer was relieved as a consequence.[3-57]

Progressive Experiments

Commander Sargent

Commander Sargent

Since the inception of black enlistment there had been those in the Bureau of Naval Personnel who argued for the establishment of a group to coordinate plans and policies on the training and use of black sailors. Various proposals were considered, but only in the wake of the racial disturbances of 1943 did the bureau set up a Special Programs Unit in its Planning and Control Activity to oversee the whole black enlistment program. In the end the size of the unit governed the scope of its program. Originally the unit was to monitor all transactions involving Negroes in the bureau's operating divisions, thus relieving the Enlisted (p. 076) Division of the critical task of distributing billets for Negroes. It was also supposed to advise local commanders on race problems and interpret departmental policies for them. When finally established in August 1943, the unit consisted of only three officers, a size which considerably limited its activities. Still, the unit worked diligently to improve the lot of the black sailor, and eventually from this office would emerge the plans that brought about the integration of the Navy.

The Special Programs Unit's patron saint and the guiding spirit of the Navy's liberalizing race program was Lt. Comdr. Christopher S. Sargent. He never served in the unit himself, but helped find the two lieutenant commanders, Donald O. VanNess and Charles E. Dillon, who worked under Capt. Thomas F. Darden in the Plans and Operations Section of the Bureau of Naval Personnel and acted as liaison between the Special Programs Unit and its civilian superiors. A legendary figure in the bureau, the 31-year-old Sargent arrived as a lieutenant, junior grade, from Dean Acheson's law firm, but his rank and official position were no measure of his influence in the Navy Department. By birth and training he was used to moving in the highest circles of American society and government, and he had wide-ranging interests and duties in the Navy. Described by a superior as "a philosopher who could not tolerate segregation,"[3-58] Sargent waged something of a moral crusade to integrate the Navy. He was convinced that a social change impossible in peacetime was practical in war. Not only would integration build a more efficient Navy, it might also lead the way to changes in American society that would bridge the gap between the races.[3-59] In effect, Sargent sought to force the generally conservative Bureau of Naval Personnel into making rapid and sweeping changes in the Navy's racial policy.

During its first months of existence the Special Programs Unit tried to quiet racial unrest by a rigorous application of the separate but equal principle. It began attacking the concentration of Negroes in large segregated groups in the naval districts by creating more overseas billets. Toward the end of 1943, Negroes (p. 077) were being assigned in greater numbers to duty in the Pacific at shore establishments and aboard small defense, district, and yard craft. The Bureau of Naval Personnel also created new specialties for Negroes in the general service. One important addition was the creation of black shore patrol units for which a school was started at Great Lakes. The Special Programs Unit established a remedial training center for illiterate draftees at Camp Robert Smalls, drawing the faculty from black servicemen who had been educators in civilian life. The twelve-week course gave the students the equivalent of a fifth grade education in addition to regular recruit training. Approximately 15,000 Negroes took this training before the school was consolidated with a similar organization for whites at Bainbridge, Maryland, in the last months of the war.[3-60]

At the other end of the spectrum, the Special Programs Unit worked for the efficient use of black Class A school graduates by renewing the attack on improper assignments. The bureau had long held that the proper assignment of black specialists was of fundamental importance to morale and efficiency, and in July 1943 it had ordered that all men must be used in the ratings and for the types of work for which they had been trained.[3-61] But the unit discovered considerable deviation from this policy in some districts, especially in the south, where there was a tendency to regard Negroes as an extra labor source above the regular military complement. In December 1943 the Special Programs Unit got the bureau to rule in the name of manpower efficiency that, with the exception of special units in the supply departments at South Boston and Norfolk, no black sailor could be assigned to such civilian jobs as maintenance work and stevedoring in the continental United States.[3-62]

These reforms were welcome, but they ignored the basic dilemma: the only way to abolish concentrations of shore-based Negroes was to open up positions for them in the fleet. Though many black sailors were best suited for unskilled or semiskilled billets, a significant number had technical skills that could be properly used only if these men were assigned to the fleet. To relieve the racial tension and to end the waste of skilled manpower engendered by the misuse of these men, the Special Programs Unit pressed for a chance to test black seamanship. Admiral King agreed, and in early 1944 the Bureau of Naval Personnel assigned 196 black enlisted men and 44 white officers and petty officers to the USS Mason, a newly commissioned destroyer escort, with the understanding that all enlisted billets would be filled by Negroes as soon as those qualified to fill them had been trained. It also assigned 53 black rated seamen and 14 white officers and noncommissioned officers to a patrol craft, the PC 1264.[3-63] Both ships eventually replaced their white petty officers and some of their officers with Negroes. Among the latter was Ens. Samuel Gravely, who was to become the Navy's first black admiral.

USS Mason.

USS Mason.
Sailors look over their new ship.

Although (p. 078) both ships continued to operate with black crews well into 1945, the Mason on escort duty in the Atlantic, only four other segregated patrol craft were added to the fleet during the war.[3-64] The Mason passed its shakedown cruise test, but the Bureau of Naval Personnel was not satisfied with the crew. The black petty officers had proved competent in their ratings and interested in their work, but bureau observers agreed that the rated men in general were unable to maintain discipline. The nonrated men tended to lack respect for the petty officers, who showed some disinclination to put their men on report. The Special Programs Unit admitted the truth of these charges but argued that the experiment only proved what the Navy already knew: black sailors did not respond well when assigned to all-black organizations under white officers.[3-65] On the other hand, the experiment demonstrated that the Navy possessed a reservoir of able seamen who were not being efficiently employed, and—an unexpected dividend from the presence of white noncommissioned officers—that integration worked on board ship. The white petty officers messed, worked, and slept with their men in the close contact inevitable aboard small ships, with no sign of racial friction.

Opportunity (p. 079) for advancement was as important to morale as assignment according to training and skill, and the Special Programs Unit encouraged the promotion of Negroes according to their ability and in proportion to their number. Although in July 1943 the Bureau of Naval Personnel had warned commanders that it would continue to order white enlisted men to sea with the expectation that they would be replaced in shore jobs by Negroes,[3-66] the Special Programs Unit discovered that rating and promotion of Negroes was still slow. At the unit's urging, the bureau advised all naval districts that it expected Negroes to be rated upward "as rapidly as practicable" and asked them to report on their rating of Negroes.[3-67] It also authorized stations to retain white petty officers for up to two weeks to break in their black replacements, but warned that this privilege must not be abused. The bureau further directed that all qualified general service candidates be advanced to ratings for which they were eligible regardless of whether their units were authorized enough spaces to take care of them. This last directive did little for black promotions at first because many local commanders ruled that no Negroes could be "qualified" since none were allowed to perform sea duties. In January 1944 the bureau had to clarify the order to make sure that Negroes were given the opportunity to advance.[3-68]

Despite these evidences of command concern, black promotions continued to lag in the Navy. Again at the Special Programs Unit's urging, the Bureau of Naval Personnel began to limit the number of rated men turned out by the black training schools so that more nonrated men already on the job might have a better chance to win ratings. The bureau instituted a specialist leadership course for rated Negroes at Great Lakes and recommended in January 1944 that two Negroes so trained be included in each base company sent out of the country. It also selected twelve Negroes with backgrounds in education and public relations and assigned them to recruiting duty around the country. The bureau expanded the black petty officer program because it was convinced by the end of 1943 that the presence of more black leaders, particularly in the large base companies, would improve discipline and raise morale. It was but a short step from this conviction to a realization that black commissioned officers were needed.

Despite its 100,000 enlisted Negroes, the absence of black commissioned officers in the fall of 1943 forced the Navy to answer an increasing number of queries from civil rights organizations and Congress.[3-69] Several times during 1942 suggestions were made within the Bureau of Naval Personnel that the instructors at the Hampton specialist school and seventy-five other Negroes be commissioned (p. 080) for service with the large black units, but nothing happened. Secretary Knox himself thought that the Navy would have to develop a considerable body of black sailors before it could even think about commissioning black officers.[3-70] But the secretary failed to appreciate the effect of the sheer number of black draftees that overwhelmed the service in the spring of 1943, and he reckoned without the persuasive arguments of his special assistant, Adlai Stevenson.[3-71]

Secretary Knox often referred to Adlai Stevenson as "my New Dealer," and, as the expression suggested, the Illinois lawyer was in an excellent position to influence the secretary's thinking.[3-72] Although not so forceful an advocate as Christopher Sargent, Stevenson lent his considerable intelligence and charm to the support of those in the department who sought equal opportunity for the Negro. He was an invaluable and influential ally for the Special Programs Unit. Stevenson knew Knox well and understood how to approach him. He was particularly effective in getting Negroes commissioned. In September 1943 he pointed out that, with the induction of 12,000 Negroes a month, the demand for black officers would be mounting in the black community and in the government as well. The Navy could not and should not, he warned, postpone much longer the creation of some black officers. Suspicion of discrimination was one reason the Navy was failing to get the best qualified Negroes, and Stevenson believed it wise to act quickly. He recommended that the Navy commission ten or twelve Negroes from among "top notch civilians just as we procure white officers" and a few from the ranks. The commissioning should be treated as a matter of course without any special publicity. The news, he added wryly, would get out soon enough.[3-73]

There were in fact three avenues to a Navy commission: the Naval Academy, the V-12 program, and direct commission from civilian life or the enlisted ranks. But Annapolis had no Negroes enrolled at the time Stevenson spoke, and only a dozen Negroes were enrolled in V-12 programs at integrated civilian colleges throughout the country.[3-74] The lack of black students in the V-12 program could be attributed in part to the belief of many black trainees that the program barred Negroes. Actually, it never had, and in December 1943 the bureau publicized this fact. It issued a circular letter emphasizing to all commanders that enlisted men were entitled to consideration for transfer to the V-12 program regardless (p. 081) of race.[3-75] Despite this effort it was soon apparent that the program would produce only a few black officers, and the Bureau of Naval Personnel, at the urging of its Special Programs Unit, agreed to follow Stevenson's suggestion and concentrate on the direct commissioning of Negroes. Unlike Stevenson the bureau preferred to obtain most of the men from the enlisted ranks, and only in the case of certain specially trained men did the Navy commission civilians.

First Black Officers in the Navy.

First Black Officers in the Navy.
From left to right: (top row) John W. Reagan, Jesse W. Arbor, Dalton L. Baugh;
(second row) Graham E. Martin, W. O. Charles B. Lear, Frank C. Sublett;
(third row) Phillip S. Barnes, George Cooper, Reginald Goodwin;
(bottom row) James E. Hare, Samuel E. Barnes, W. Sylvester White, Dennis D. Nelson II.

The Bureau of Naval Personnel concluded that, since many units were substantially or wholly manned by Negroes, black officers could be used without undue difficulty, and when Secretary Knox, prodded by Stevenson, turned to the (p. 082) bureau, it recommended that the Navy commission twelve line and ten staff officers from a selected list of enlisted men.[3-76] Admiral King endorsed the bureau's recommendation and on 15 December 1943 Knox approved it, although he conditioned his approval by saying: "After you have commissioned the twenty-two officers you suggest, I think this matter should again be reviewed before any additional colored officers are commissioned."[3-77]

On 1 January 1944 the first sixteen black officer candidates, selected from among qualified enlisted applicants, entered Great Lakes for segregated training. All sixteen survived the course, but only twelve were commissioned. In the last week of the course, three candidates were returned to the ranks, not because they had failed but because the Bureau of Naval Personnel had suddenly decided to limit the number of black officers in this first group to twelve. The twelve entered the U.S. Naval Reserve as line officers on 17 March. A thirteenth man, the only candidate who lacked a college degree, was made a warrant officer because of his outstanding work in the course.

Two of the twelve new ensigns were assigned to the faculty at Hampton training school, four others to yard and harbor craft duty, and the rest to training duty at Great Lakes. All carried the label "Deck Officers Limited—only," a designation usually reserved for officers whose physical or educational deficiencies kept them from performing all the duties of a line officer. The Bureau of Naval Personnel never explained why the men were placed in this category, but it was clear that none of them lacked the physical requirements of a line officer and all had had business or professional careers in civil life.

Operating duplicate training facilities for officer candidates was costly, and the bureau decided shortly after the first group of black candidates was trained that future candidates of both races would be trained together. By early summer ten more Negroes, this time civilians with special professional qualifications, had been trained with whites and were commissioned as staff officers in the Medical, Dental, Chaplain, Civil Engineer, and Supply Corps. These twenty-two men were the first of some sixty Negroes to be commissioned during the war.

Since only a handful of the Negroes in the Navy were officers, the preponderance of the race problems concerned relations between black enlisted men and their white officers. The problem of selecting the proper officers to command black sailors was a formidable one never satisfactorily solved during the war. As in the Army, most of the white officers routinely selected for such assignments were southerners, chosen by the Bureau of Naval Personnel for their assumed "understanding" of Negroes rather than for their general competency. The Special Programs Unit tried to work with these officers, assembling them for conferences to discuss the best techniques and procedures for dealing with groups of black subordinates. Members of the unit sought to disabuse the officers of preconceived biases, constantly reminding them that "our prejudices must (p. 083) be subordinated to our traditional unfailing obedience to orders."[3-78] Although there was ample proof that many Negroes actively resented the paternalism exhibited by many of even the best of these officers, this fact was slow to filter through the naval establishment. It was not until January 1944 that an officer who had compiled an enviable record in training Seabee units described how his organization had come to see the light:

We in the Seabees no longer follow the precept that southern officers exclusively should be selected for colored battalions. A man may be from the north, south, east or west. If his attitude is to do the best possible job he knows how, regardless of what the color of his personnel is, that is the man we want as an officer for our colored Seabees. We have learned to steer clear of the "I'm from the South—I know how to handle 'em variety." It follows with reference to white personnel, that deeply accented southern whites are not generally suited for Negro battalions.[3-79]

Further complicating the task of selecting suitable officers for black units was the fact that when the Bureau of Naval Personnel asked unit commanders to recommend men for such duty many commanders used the occasion to rid themselves of their least desirable officers. The Special Programs Unit then tried to develop its own source of officers for black units. It discovered a fine reservoir of talent among the white noncommissioned officers who ran the physical training and drill courses at Great Lakes. These were excellent instructors, mature and experienced in dealing with people. In January 1944 arrangements were made to commission them and to assign them to black units.

Improvement in the quality of officers in black units was especially important because the attitude of local commanders was directly related to the degree of segregation in living quarters and recreational facilities, and such segregation was the most common source of racial tension. Although the Navy's practice of segregating units clearly invited separate living and recreational facilities, the rules were unwritten, and local commanders had been left to decide the extent to which segregation was necessary. Thus practices varied greatly and policy depended ultimately on the local commanders. Rather than attack racial practices at particular bases, the unit decided to concentrate on the officers. It explained to these leaders the Navy's policy of equal treatment and opportunity, a concept basically incompatible with many of their practices.

This conclusion was embodied in a pamphlet entitled Guide to the Command of Negro Naval Personnel and published by the Bureau of Naval Personnel in February 1944.[3-80] The Special Programs Unit had to overcome much opposition within the bureau to get the pamphlet published. Some thought the subject of racial tension was best ignored; others objected to the "sociological" content of the work, considering this approach outside the Navy's province. The unit (p. 084) argued that racial tension in the Navy was a serious problem that could not be ignored, and since human relations affected the Navy's mission the Navy should deal with social matters objectively and frankly.[3-81]

Scholarly and objective, the pamphlet was an important document in the history of race relations in the Navy. In language similar to that used in the War Department's pamphlet on race, the Bureau of Naval Personnel stated officially for the first time that discrimination flowed of necessity out of the doctrine of segregation:

The idea of compulsory racial segregation is disliked by almost all Negroes, and literally hated by many. This antagonism is in part a result of the fact that as a principle it embodies a doctrine of racial inferiority. It is also a result of the lesson taught the Negro by experience that in spite of the legal formula of "separate but equal" facilities, the facilities open to him under segregation are in fact usually inferior as to location or quality to those available to others.[3-82]

The guide also foreshadowed the end of the old order of things: "The Navy accepts no theories of racial differences in inborn ability, but expects that every man wearing its uniform be trained and used in accordance with his maximum individual capacity determined on the basis of individual performance."[3-83]

Forrestal Takes the Helm

The Navy got a leader sympathetic to the proposition of equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes, and possessed of the bureaucratic skills to achieve reforms, when President Roosevelt appointed Under Secretary James Forrestal to replace Frank Knox, who died suddenly on 28 April 1944. During the next five years Forrestal, a brilliant, complex product of Wall Street, would assume more and more responsibility for directing the integration effort in the defense establishment. Although no racial crusader, Forrestal had been for many years a member of the National Urban League, itself a pillar of the civil rights establishment. He saw the problem of employing Negroes as one of efficiency and simple fair play, and as the months went by he assumed an active role in experimenting with changes in the Navy's policy.[3-84]

His first experiment was with sea duty for Negroes. After the experience of the Mason and the other segregated ships which actually proved very little, sentiment for a partial integration of the fleet continued to grow in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. As early as April 1943, officers in the Planning and Control Activity recommended that Negroes be included in small numbers in the crews of the larger combat ships. Admiral Jacobs, however, was convinced that "you couldn't dump 200 colored boys on a crew in battle,"[3-85] so this and similar proposals later in the year never survived passage through the bureau.

Forrestal (p. 085) accepted Jacob's argument that as long as the war continued any move toward integrating the fighting ships was impractical. At the same time, he agreed with the Special Programs Unit that large concentrations of Negroes in shore duties lowered efficiency and morale. Forrestal compromised by ordering the bureau to prepare as an experiment a plan for the integration of some fleet auxiliary ships. On 20 May 1944 he outlined the problem for the President:

"From a morale standpoint, the Negroes resent the fact that they are not assigned to general service billets at sea, and white personnel resent the fact that Negroes have been given less hazardous assignments." He explained that at first Negroes would be used only on the large auxiliaries, and their number would be limited to not more than 10 percent of the ship's complement. If this step proved workable, he planned to use Negroes in small numbers on other types of ships "as necessity indicates." The White House answered: "OK, FDR."[3-86]

Secretary Forrestal also won the support of the Chief of Naval Operations for the move, but Admiral King still considered integration in the fleet experimental and was determined to keep strict control until the results were known. On 9 August 1944 King informed the commanding officers of twenty-five large fleet auxiliaries that Negroes would be assigned to them in the near future. As Forrestal had suggested, King set the maximum number of Negroes at 10 percent of the ship's general service. Of this number, 15 percent would be third-class petty officers from shore activities, selected as far as possible from volunteers and, in any case, from those who had served the longest periods of shore duty. Of the remainder, 43 percent would be from Class A schools and 42 percent from recruit training. The basic 10 percent figure proved to be a theoretical maximum; no ship received that many Negroes.

Admiral King insisted that equal treatment in matters of training, promotion, and duty assignments must be accorded all hands, but he left the matter of berthing to the commanding officers, noting that experience had proved that in the shore establishment, when the percentage of blacks to whites was small, the two groups could be successfully mingled in the same compartments. He also pointed out that a thorough indoctrination of white sailors before the arrival of the Negroes had been useful in preventing racial friction ashore.[3-87]

King asked all commanders concerned in the experiment to report their experiences.[3-88] Their judgment: integration in the auxiliary fleet worked. As one typical report related after several months of integrated duty:

The crew was carefully indoctrinated in the fact that Negro personnel should not be subjected to discrimination of any sort and should be treated in the same manner as other members of the crew.

The Negro personnel when they came aboard were berthed indiscriminately throughout the crew's compartments in the same manner as if they had been white. It is felt that the assimilation of the general service Negro personnel aboard this ship has been (p. 086) remarkably successful. To the present date there has been no report of any difficulty which could be laid to their color. It is felt that this is due in part, at least, to the high calibre of Negroes assigned to this ship.[3-89]

The comments of his commanders convinced King that the auxiliary vessels in the fleet could be integrated without incident. He approved a plan submitted by the Chief of Naval Personnel on 6 March 1945 for the gradual assignment of Negroes to all auxiliary vessels, again in numbers not to exceed 10 percent of the general service billets in any ship's complement.[3-90] A month later Negroes were being so assigned in an administratively routine manner.[3-91] The Bureau of Naval Personnel then began assigning black officers to sea duty on the integrated vessels. The first one went to the Mason in March, and in succeeding months others were sent in a routine manner to auxiliary vessels throughout the fleet.[3-92] These assignments were not always carried out according to the bureau's formula. The commander of the USS Chemung, for example, told a young black ensign:

I'm a Navy Man, and we're in a war. To me, it's that stripe that counts—and the training and leadership that it is supposed to symbolize. That's why I never called a meeting of the crew to prepare them, to explain their obligation to respect you, or anything like that. I didn't want anyone to think you were different from any other officer coming aboard.[3-93]

Admitting Negroes to the WAVES was another matter considered by the new secretary in his first days in office. In fact, the subject had been under discussion in the Navy Department for some two years. Soon after the organization of the women's auxiliary, its director, Capt. Mildred H. McAfee, had recommended that Negroes be accepted, arguing that their recruitment would help to temper the widespread criticism of the Navy's restrictive racial policy. But the traditionalists in the Bureau of Naval Personnel had opposed the move on the grounds that WAVES were organized to replace men, and since there were more than enough black sailors to fill all billets open to Negroes there was no need to recruit black women.

Actually, both arguments served to mask other motives, as did Knox's rejection of recruitment on the grounds that integrating women into the Navy was difficult (p. 087) enough without taking on the race problem.[3-94] In April 1943 Knox "tentatively" approved the "tentative" outline of a bureau plan for the induction of up to 5,000 black WAVES, but nothing came of it.[3-95] Given the secretary's frequent protestation that the subject was under constant review,[3-96] and his statement to Captain McAfee that black WAVES would be enlisted "over his dead body,"[3-97] the tentative outline and approval seems to have been an attempt to defer the decision indefinitely.

Secretary Knox's delay merely attracted more attention to the problem and enabled the protestors to enlist powerful allies. At the time of his death, Knox was under siege by a delegation from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) demanding a reassessment of the Navy's policy on the women's reserve.[3-98] His successor turned for advice to Captain McAfee and to the Bureau of Naval Personnel where, despite Knox's "positive and direct orders" against recruiting black WAVES, the Special Programs Unit had continued to study the problem.[3-99] Convinced that the step was just and inevitable, the unit also agreed that the WAVES should be integrated. Forrestal approved, and on 28 July 1944 he recommended to the President that Negroes be trained in the WAVES on an integrated basis and assigned "wherever needed within the continental limits of the United States, preferably to stations where there are already Negro men." He concluded by reiterating a Special Programs Unit warning: "I consider it advisable to start obtaining Negro WAVES before we are forced to take them."[3-100]

To avoid the shoals of racial controversy in the midst of an election year, Secretary Forrestal did trim his recommendations to the extent that he retained the doctrine of separate but equal living quarters and mess facilities for the black WAVES. Despite this offer of compromise, President Roosevelt directed Forrestal to withhold action on the proposal.[3-101] Here the matter would probably have stood until after the election but for Thomas E. Dewey's charge in a Chicago speech during the presidential campaign that the White House was discriminating against black women. The President quickly instructed the Navy to admit Negroes into the WAVES.[3-102]

First black WAVE officers

Lieutenant Pickens and Ensign Wills.
First black WAVE officers,
members of the final graduating class at Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School (WR), Northhampton, Massachusetts.

The first two black WAVE officers graduated from training at Smith College on 21 December, and the enlistment of black women began a week later. The program turned out to be more racially progressive than initially outlined by Forrestal. He had explained to the President that the women would be quartered (p. 088) separately, a provision interpreted in the Bureau of Naval Personnel to mean that black recruits would be organized into separate companies. Since a recruit company numbered 250 women, and since it quickly became apparent that such a large group of black volunteers would not soon be forthcoming, some of the bureau staff decided that the Navy would continue to bar black women. In this they reckoned without Captain McAfee who insisted on a personal ruling by Forrestal. She warned the secretary that his order was necessary because the concept "was so strange to Navy practice."[3-103] He agreed with her that the Negroes would be integrated along with the rest of the incoming recruits, and the Bureau of Naval Personnel subsequently ordered that the WAVES be assimilated without making either special or separate arrangements.[3-104]

By July 1945 the Navy had trained seventy-two black WAVES at Hunter College Naval Training School in a fully integrated and routine manner. Although black WAVES were restricted somewhat in specialty assignments and a certain amount of separate quartering within integrated barracks prevailed at some duty stations, the Special Programs Unit came to consider the WAVE program, which established a forceful precedent for the integration of male recruit training, its most important wartime breakthrough, crediting Captain McAfee and her unbending insistence on equal treatment for the achievement.

Forrestal won the day in these early experiments, but he was a skillful administrator and knew that there was little hope for any fundamental social change in the naval service without the active cooperation of the Navy's high-ranking officers. His meeting with Admiral King on the subject of integration in the summer of 1944 has been reported by several people. Lester Granger, who later became Forrestal's special representative on racial matters, recalled:

He [Forrestal] said he spoke to Admiral King, who was then chief of staff, and said, "Admiral King, I'm not satisfied with the situation here—I don't think that our Navy Negro personnel are getting a square break. I want to do something about it, but I can't do anything about it unless the officers are behind me. I want your help. What do you say?" He (p. 089) said that Admiral King sat for a moment, and looked out the window and then said reflectively, "You know, we say that we are a democracy and a democracy ought to have a democratic Navy. I don't think you can do it, but if you want to try, I'm behind you all the way." And he told me, "And Admiral King was behind me, all the way, not only he but all of the Bureau of Personnel, BuPers. They've been bricks."[3-105] Admiral Jacobs, the Chief of Naval Personnel, also pledged his support.[3-106]

Sailors in the General Service
Move Ammunition

Sailors in the General Service Move Ammunition

As news of the King-Forrestal conversation filtered through the department, many of the programs long suggested by the Special Programs Unit and heretofore treated with indifference or disapproval suddenly received respectful attention.[3-107] With the high-ranking officers cooperating, the Navy under Forrestal began to attack some of the more obvious forms of discrimination and causes of racial tension. Admiral King led the attack, personally directing in August 1944 that all elements give close attention to the proper selection of officers to command black sailors. As he put it: "Certain officers will be temperamentally better suited for such commands than others."[3-108] The qualifications (p. 090) of these officers were to be kept under constant review. In December he singled out the commands in the Pacific area, which had a heavy concentration of all-black base companies, calling for a reform in their employment and advancement of Negroes.[3-109]

Security Watch in the Marianas.
Ratings of these men guarding an ammunition depot include boatswain, second class, seaman, first class, and fireman, first class.

The Bureau of Naval Personnel also stepped up the tempo of its reforms. In March 1944 it had already made black cooks and bakers eligible for duty in all commissary branches of the Navy.[3-110] In June it got Forrestal's approval for putting all rated cooks and stewards in chief petty officer uniforms.[3-111] (While providing finally for the proper uniforming of the chief cooks and stewards, this reform set their subordinates, the rated cooks and stewards, even further apart from their counterparts in the general service who of course continued to wear the familiar bell bottoms.) The bureau also began to attack the concentration of Negroes in ammunition depots and base companies. On 21 February 1945 it ordered that all naval magazines and ammunition depots in the United States and, wherever practical, overseas limit their black seamen to 30 percent of the total (p. 091) employed.[3-112] It also organized twenty logistic support companies to replace the formless base companies sent to the Pacific in the early months of the recruitment program. Organized to perform supply functions, each company consisted of 250 enlisted men and five officers, with a flexible range of petty officer billets.

In the reform atmosphere slowly permeating the Bureau of Naval Personnel, the Special Programs Unit found it relatively easy to end segregation in the specialist training program.[3-113] From the first, the number of Negroes eligible for specialist training had been too small to make costly duplication of equipment and services practical. In 1943, for example, the black aviation metalsmith school at Great Lakes had an average enrollment of eight students. The school was quietly closed and its students integrated with white students. Thus, when the Mason's complement was assembled in early 1944, Negroes were put into the destroyer school at Norfolk side by side with whites, and the black and white petty officers were quartered together. As a natural consequence of the decision to place Negroes in the auxiliary fleet, the Bureau of Naval Personnel opened training in seagoing rates to Negroes on an integrated basis. Citing the practicality of the move, the bureau closed the last of the black schools in June 1945.[3-114]

Despite these reforms, the months following Forrestal's talk with King saw many important recommendations of the Special Programs Unit wandering uncertainly through the bureaucratic desert. For example, a proposal to make the logistic support companies interracial, or at least to create comparable white companies to remove the stigma of segregated manual labor, failed to survive the objections of the enlisted personnel section. The Bureau of Naval Personnel rejected a suggestion that Negroes be assigned to repair units on board ships and to LST's, LCI's, and LCT's during the expansion of the amphibious program. On 30 August 1944 Admiral King rejected a bureau recommendation that the crews of net tenders and mine ships be integrated. He reasoned that these vessels were being kept in readiness for overseas assignment and required "the highest degree of experienced seamanship and precision work" by the crews. He also cited the crowded living quarters and less experienced officers as further reasons for banning Negroes.[3-115]

There were other examples of backsliding in the Navy's racial practices. Use of Negroes in general service had created a shortage of messmen, and in August 1944 the Bureau of Naval Personnel authorized commanders to recruit among black seamen for men to transfer to the Steward's Branch. The bureau suggested as (p. 092) a talking point the fact that stewards enjoyed more rapid advancement, shorter hours, and easier work than men in the general service.[3-116] And, illustrating that a move toward integration was sometimes followed by a step backward, a bureau representative reported in July 1945 that whereas a few black trainees at the Bainbridge Naval Training Center had been integrated in the past, many now arriving were segregated in all-black companies.[3-117]

There were reasons for the inconsistent stance in Washington. The Special Programs Unit had for some time been convinced that only full integration would eliminate discrimination and dissolve racial tensions in the Navy, and it had understood Forrestal's desire "to do something" for the Negro to mean just that. Some senior commanders and their colleagues in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, on the other hand, while accepting the need for reform and willing to accept some racial mixing, nevertheless rejected any substantial change in the policy of restricted employment of Negroes on the grounds that it might disrupt the wartime fleet. Both sides could argue with assurance since Forrestal and King had not made their positions completely clear. Whatever the secretary's ultimate intention, the reforms carried out in 1944 were too little and too late. Perhaps nothing would have been sufficient, for the racial incidents visited upon the Navy during the last year of the war were symptomatic of the overwhelming dissatisfaction Negroes felt with their lot in the armed forces. There had been incidents during the Knox period, but investigation had failed to isolate any "single, simple cause," and troubles continued to occur during 1944.[3-118]

Three of these incidents gained national prominence.[3-119] The first was a mutiny at Mare Island, California, after an explosion destroyed two ammunition ships loading at nearby Port Chicago on 17 July 1944. The explosion killed over 300 persons, including 250 black seamen who had toiled in large, segregated labor battalions. The survivors refused to return to work, and fifty of them were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to prison. The incident became a cause celebre. Finally, through the intervention of the black press and black organizations and the efforts of Thurgood Marshall and Lester Granger, the convictions were set aside and the men restored to active duty.

A riot on Guam in December 1944 was the climax of months of friction between black seamen and white marines. A series of shootings in and around the town of Agana on Christmas Eve left a black and a white marine dead. Believing one of the killed a member of their group, black sailors from the Naval Supply Depot drove into town to confront the outnumbered military police. No violence ensued, but the next day two truckloads of armed Negroes went to the white Marine camp. A riot followed and forty-three Negroes were arrested, charged with rioting and theft of the trucks, and sentenced to up to four years in prison. (p. 093) The authorities also recommended that several of the white marines involved be court-martialed. These men too were convicted of various offenses and sentenced.[3-120] Walter White went to Guam to investigate the matter and appeared as a principal witness before the Marine Court of Inquiry. There he pieced together for officials the long history of discrimination suffered by men of the base company. This situation, combined with poor leadership in the unit, he believed, caused the trouble. His efforts and those of other civil rights advocates led to the release of the black sailors in early 1946.[3-121]

Specialists Repair Aircraft

Specialists Repair Aircraft,
Naval Air Station, Seattle, Washington, 1945.

A hunger strike developed as a protest against discrimination in a Seabee battalion at Port Hueneme, California, in March 1945. There was no violence. The thousand strikers continued to work but refused to eat for two days. The resulting publicity forced the Navy to investigate the charges; as a result, the commanding officer, the focus of the grievance, was replaced and the outfit sent overseas.

The riots, mutinies, and other incidents increased the pressure for further modifications of policy. Some senior officers became convinced that the only way (p. 094) to avoid mass rebellion was to avert the possibility of collective action, and collective action was less likely if Negroes were dispersed among whites. As Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet and an eloquent proponent of the theory that integration was a practical means of avoiding trouble, explained to the captain of an attack cargo ship who had just received a group of black crewmen and was segregating their sleeping quarters: "If you put all the Negroes together they'll have a chance to share grievances and to plot among themselves, and this will damage discipline and morale. If they are distributed among other members of the crew, there will be less chance of trouble. And when we say we want integration, we mean integration."[3-122] Thus integration grew out of both idealism and realism.

If racial incidents convinced the admirals that further reforms were necessary, they also seem to have strengthened Forrestal's resolve to introduce a still greater change in his department's policy. For months he had listened to the arguments of senior officials and naval experts that integration of the fleet, though desirable, was impossible during the war. Yet Forrestal had seen integration work on the small patrol craft, on fleet auxiliaries, and in the WAVES. In fact, integration was working smoothly wherever it had been tried. Although hard to substantiate, the evidence suggests that it was in the weeks after the Guam incident that the secretary and Admiral King agreed on a policy of total integration in the general service. The change would be gradual, but the progress would be evident and the end assured—Negroes were going to be assigned as individuals to all branches and billets in the general service.[3-123]

Forrestal and King received no end of advice. In December 1944 a group of black publicists called upon the secretary to appoint a civilian aide to consider the problems of the Negro in the Navy. The group also added its voice to those within the Navy who were suggesting the appointment of a black public relations officer to disseminate news of particular interest to the black press and to improve the Navy's relations with the black community.[3-124] One of Forrestal's assistants proposed that an intradepartmental committee be organized to standardize the disparate approaches to racial problems throughout the naval establishment; another recommended the appointment of a black civilian to advise the Bureau of Naval Personnel; and still another recommended a white assistant on racial affairs in the office of the under secretary.[3-125]

These ideas had merit. The Special Programs Unit had for some time been urging a public relations effort, pointing to the existence of an influential black press (p. 095) as well as to the desirability of fostering among whites a greater knowledge of the role of Negroes in the war. Forrestal brought two black officers to Washington for possible assignment to public relations work, and he asked the director of public relations to arrange for black newsmen to visit vessels manned by black crewmen. Finally, in June 1945, a black officer was added to the staff of the Navy's Office of Public Relations.[3-126]

Appointment of a civilian aide on racial affairs was under consideration for some time, but when no agreement could be reached on where best to assign the official, Forrestal, who wanted someone he could "casually talk to about race relations,"[3-127] invited the Executive Secretary of the National Urban League to "give us some of your time for a period."[3-128] Thus in March 1945 Lester B. Granger began his long association with the Department of Defense, an association that would span the military's integration effort.[3-129] Granger's assignment was straightforward. From time to time he would make extensive trips representing the secretary and his special interest in racial problems at various naval stations.

Forrestal was sympathetic to the Urban League's approach to racial justice, and in Granger he had a man who had developed this approach into a social philosophy. Granger believed in relating the Navy's racial problems not to questions of fairness but to questions of survival, comfort, and security for all concerned. He assumed that if leadership in any field came to understand that its privilege or its security were threatened by denial of fairness to the less privileged, then a meeting of minds was possible between the two groups. They would begin to seek a way to eliminate insecurity, and from the process of eliminating insecurity would come fairness. As Granger explained it, talk to the commander about his loss of efficient production, not the shame of denying a Negro a man's right to a job. Talk about the social costs that come from denial of opportunity and talk about the penalty that the privileged pay almost in equal measure to what the Negro pays, but in different coin. Only then would one begin to get a hearing. On the other hand, talk to Negroes not about achieving their rights but about making good on an opportunity. This would lead to a discussion of training, of ways to override barriers "by maintaining themselves whole."[3-130] The Navy was going to get a lesson in race relations, Urban League style.

At Forrestal's request, Granger explained how he viewed the special adviser's role. He thought he could help the secretary by smoothing the integration process in the general service through consultations with local commanders and their men in a series of field visits. He could also act as an intermediary between the department and the civil rights organizations and black press. Granger (p. 096) urged the formation of an advisory council, which would consist of ranking representatives from the various branches, to interpret and administer the Navy's racial policy. The need for such intradepartmental coordination seemed fairly obvious. Although in 1945 the Bureau of Naval Personnel had increased the resources of its Special Programs Unit, still the only specialized organization dealing with race problems, that group was always too swamped with administrative detail to police race problems outside Washington. Furthermore, the Seabees and the Medical and Surgery Department were in some ways independent of the bureau, and their employment of black sailors was different from that of other branches—a situation that created further confusion and conflict in the application of race policy.[3-131]

Assuming that the advisory council would require an executive agent, Granger suggested that the secretary have a full-time assistant for race relations in addition to his own part-time services. He wanted the man to be black and he wanted him in the secretary's office, which would give him prestige in the black community and increase his power to deal with the bureaus. Forrestal rejected the idea of a council and a full-time assistant, pleading that he must avoid creating another formal organization. Instead he decided to assemble an informal committee, which he invited Granger to join, to standardize the Navy's handling of Negroes.[3-132]

It was obvious that Forrestal, convinced that the Navy's senior officials had made a fundamental shift in their thinking on equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes in the Navy, was content to let specific reforms percolate slowly throughout the department. He would later call the Navy's wartime reforms "a start down a long road."[3-133] In these last months of the war, however, more barriers to equal treatment of Negroes were quietly falling. In March 1945, after months of prodding by Forrestal, the Surgeon General announced that the Navy would accept a "reasonable" number of qualified black nurses and was now recruiting for them.[3-134] In June the Bureau of Naval Personnel ordered the integration of recruit training, assigning black general service recruits to the nearest recruit training command "to obtain the maximum utilization of naval training and housing facilities."[3-135] Noting that this integration was at variance with some individual attitudes, the bureau justified the change on the grounds of administrative efficiency. Again at the secretary's urging, plans were set in motion in July for the assignment of Negroes to submarine and aviation pilot training.[3-136] At the same time Lester Granger, acting as the secretary's personal representative, (p. 097) was visiting the Navy's continental installations, prodding commanders and converting them to the new policy.[3-137]

The 22d Special Construction Battalion Celebrates V-J

The 22d Special Construction Battalion Celebrates V-J Day

The Navy's wartime progress in race relations was the product of several forces. At first Negroes were restricted to service as messmen, but political pressure forced the Navy to open general service billets to them. In this the influence of the civil rights spokesmen was paramount. They and their allies in Congress and the national political parties led President Roosevelt to demand an end to exclusion and the Navy to accept Negroes for segregated general service. The presence of large numbers of black inductees and the limited number of assignments for them in segregated units prevented the Bureau of Naval Personnel from providing even a semblance of separate but equal conditions. Deteriorating black morale and the specter of racial disturbance drove the bureau to experiment with all-black crews, but the experiment led nowhere. The Navy could never operate a separate but equal fleet. Finally in 1944 Forrestal began to experiment with integration in seagoing assignments.

The influence of the civil rights forces can be overstated. Their attention tended to focus on the Army, especially in the later years of the war; their attacks on the Navy were mostly sporadic and uncoordinated and easily deflected by naval spokesmen. Equally important to race reform was the fact that the Navy was developing its own group of civil rights advocates during the war, influential men in key positions who had been dissatisfied with the prewar status of the Negro and who pressed for racial change in the name of military efficiency. Under (p. 098) the leadership of a sympathetic secretary, himself aided and abetted by Stevenson and other advisers in his office and in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, the Navy was laying plans for a racially integrated general service when Japan capitulated.

To achieve equality of treatment and opportunity, however, takes more than the development of an integration policy. For one thing, the liberalization of policy and practices affected only a relatively small percentage of the Negroes in the Navy. On V-J day the Navy could count 164,942 enlisted Negroes, 5.37 percent of its total enlisted strength.[3-138] More than double the prewar percentage, this figure was still less than half the national ratio of blacks to whites. In August 1945 the Navy had 60 black officers, 6 of whom were women (4 nurses and 2 WAVES), and 68 enlisted WAVES who were not segregated. The integration of the Navy officer corps, the WAVES, and the nurses had an immediate effect on only 128 people. Figures for black enlisted men show that they were employed in some sixty-seven ratings by the end of the war, but steward and steward's mate ratings accounted for some 68,000 men, about 40 percent of the total black enlistment. Approximately 59,000 others were ordinary seamen, some were recruits in training or specialists striking for ratings, but most were assigned to the large segregated labor units and base companies.[3-139] Here again integrated service affected only a small portion of the Navy's black recruits during World War II.

Furthermore, a real chance existed that even this limited progress might prove to be temporary. On V-J day the Regular Navy had 7,066 Negroes, just 2.14 percent of its total.[3-140] Many of these men could be expected to stay in the postwar Navy, but the overwhelming majority of them were in the separate Steward's Branch and would remain there after the war. Black reservists in the wartime general service would have to compete with white regulars and reservists for the severely reduced number of postwar billets and commissions in a Navy in which almost all members would have to be regulars. Although Lester Granger had stressed this point in conversations with James Forrestal, neither the secretary nor the Bureau of Naval Personnel took the matter up before the end of the war. In short, after setting in motion a number of far-reaching reforms during the war, the Navy seemed in some danger of settling back into its old prewar pattern.

Still, the fact that reforms had been attempted in a service that had so recently excluded Negroes was evidence of progress. Secretary Forrestal was convinced that the Navy's hierarchy had swung behind the principle of equal treatment and opportunity, but the real test was yet to come. Hope for a permanent change in the Navy's racial practices lay in convincing its tradition-minded officers that an integrated general service with a representative share of black officers and men was a matter of military efficiency.

CHAPTER 4 (p. 099)

World War II: The Marine Corps and the Coast Guard

The racial policies of both the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard were substantially the same as the Navy policy from which they were derived, but all three differed markedly from each other in their practical application. The differences arose partly from the particular mission and size of these components of the wartime Navy, but they were also governed by the peculiar legal relationship that existed in time of war between the Navy and the other two services.

By law the Marine Corps was a component of the Department of the Navy, its commandant subordinate to the Secretary of the Navy in such matters as manpower and budget and to the Chief of Naval Operations in specified areas of military operations. In the conduct of ordinary business, however, the commandant was independent of the Navy's bureaus, including the Bureau of Naval Personnel. The Marine Corps had its own staff personnel officer, similar to the Army's G-1, and, more important for the development of racial policy, it had a Division of Plans and Policies that was immediately responsible to the commandant for manpower planning. In practical terms, the Marine Corps of World War II was subject to the dictates of the Secretary of the Navy for general policy, and the secretary's 1942 order to enlist Negroes applied equally to the Marine Corps, which had no Negroes in its ranks, and to the Navy, which did. At the same time, the letters and directives of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Naval Personnel implementing the secretary's order did not apply to the corps. In effect, the Navy Department imposed a racial policy on the corps, but left it to the commandant to carry out that policy as he saw fit. These legal distinctions would become more important as the Navy's racial policy evolved in the postwar period.

The Coast Guard's administrative position had early in the war become roughly analogous to that of the Marine Corps. At all times a branch of the armed forces, the Coast Guard was normally a part of the Treasury Department. A statute of 1915, however, provided that during wartime or "whenever the President may so direct" the Coast Guard would operate as part of the Navy, subject to the orders of the Secretary of the Navy.[4-1] At the direction of the President, the Coast Guard passed to the control of the Secretary of the Navy on 1 November 1941 and so remained until 1 January 1946.[4-2]

At (p. 100) first a division under the Chief of Naval Operations, the headquarters of the Coast Guard was later granted considerably more administrative autonomy. In March 1942 Secretary Knox carefully delineated the Navy's control over the Coast Guard, making the Chief of Naval Operations responsible for the operation of those Coast Guard ships, planes, and stations assigned to the naval commands for the "proper conduct of the war," but specifying that assignments be made with "due regard for the needs of the Coast Guard," which must continue to carry out its regular functions. Such duties as providing port security, icebreaking services, and navigational aid remained under the direct control and supervision of the commandant, the local naval district commander exercising only "general military control" of these activities in his area.[4-3] Important to the development of racial policy was the fact that the Coast Guard also retained administrative control of the recruitment, training, and assignment of personnel. Like the Marine Corps, it also had a staff agency for manpower planning, the Commandant's Advisory Board, and one for administration, the Personnel Division, independent of the Navy's bureaus.[4-4] In theory, the Coast Guard's manpower policy, at least in regard to those segments of the service that operated directly under Navy control, had to be compatible with the racial directives of the Navy's Bureau of Naval Personnel. In practice, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, like his colleague in the Marine Corps, was left free to develop his own racial policy in accordance with the general directives of the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations.

The First Black Marines

These legal distinctions had no bearing on the Marine Corps' prewar racial policy, which was designed to continue its tradition of excluding Negroes. The views of the commandant, Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, on the subject of race were well known in the Navy. Negroes did not have the "right" to demand a place in the corps, General Holcomb told the Navy's General Board when that body was considering the expansion of the corps in April 1941. "If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites."[4-5] He was more circumspect but no more reasonable when he explained the racial exclusion publicly. Black enlistment was impractical, he told one civil rights group, because the Marine Corps was too small to form racially separate units.[4-6] And, if some Negroes persisted in trying to volunteer after Pearl Harbor, there was another deterrent, described by at least one senior recruiter: the medical examiner was cautioned to disqualify the black applicant during the enlistment physical.[4-7]

Such (p. 101) evasions could no longer be practiced after President Roosevelt decided to admit Negroes to the general service of the naval establishment. According to Secretary Knox the President wanted the Navy to handle the matter "in a way that would not inject into the whole personnel of the Navy the race question."[4-8] Under pressure to make some move, General Holcomb proposed the enlistment of 1,000 Negroes in the volunteer Marine Corps Reserve for duty in the general service in a segregated composite defense battalion. The battalion would consist primarily of seacoast and antiaircraft artillery, a rifle company with a light tank platoon, and other weapons units and components necessary to make it a self-sustaining unit.[4-9] To inject the subject of race "to a less degree than any other known scheme," the commandant planned to train the unit in an isolated camp and assign it to a remote station.[4-10] The General Board accepted this proposal, explaining to Secretary Knox that Negroes could not be used in the Marine Corps' amphibious units because the inevitable replacement and redistribution of men in combat would "prevent the maintenance of necessary segregation." The board also mentioned that experienced noncommissioned officers were at a premium and that diverting them to train a black unit would be militarily inefficient.[4-11]

Although the enlistment of black marines began on 1 June 1942, the corps placed the reservists on inactive status until a training-size unit could be enlisted and segregated facilities built at Montford Point on the vast training reservation at Marine Barracks, New River (later renamed Camp Lejeune), North Carolina.[4-12] On 26 August the first contingent of Negroes began recruit training as the 51st Composite Defense Battalion at Montford Point under the command of Col. Samuel A. Woods, Jr. The corps had wanted to avoid having to train men as typists, truck drivers, and the like—specialist skills needed in the black composite unit. Instead, the commandant established black quotas for three of the four recruiting divisions, specifying that more than half the recruits qualify in the needed skills.[4-13]

Marines of the 51st Defense Battalion

Marines of the 51st Defense Battalion
await turn on rifle range, Montford Point, 1942.

The (p. 102) enlistment process proved difficult. The commandant reported that despite predictions of black educators to the contrary the corps had netted only sixty-three black recruits capable of passing the entrance examinations during the first three weeks of recruitment.[4-14] As late as 29 October the Director of Plans and Policies was reporting that only 647 of the scheduled 1,200 men (the final strength figure decided upon for the all-black unit) had been enlisted. He blamed the occupational qualifications for the delay, adding that it was doubtful "if even white recruits" could be procured under such strictures. The commandant approved his plan for enlisting Negroes without specific qualifications and instituting a modified form of specialist training. Black marines would not be sent to specialist schools "unless there is a colored school available," but instead Marine instructors would be sent to teach in the black camp.[4-15] In the end many of these first black specialists received their training in nearby Army installations.

Segregation (p. 103) was the common practice in all the services in 1942, as indeed it was throughout much of American society. If this practice appeared somehow more restrictive in the Marine Corps than it did in the other services, it was because of the corps' size and traditions. The illusion of equal treatment and opportunity could be kept alive in the massive Army and Navy with their myriad units and military occupations; it was much more difficult to preserve in the small and specialized Marine Corps. Given segregation, the Marine Corps was obliged to put its few black marines in its few black units, whose small size limited the variety of occupations and training opportunities.

Yet the size of the corps would undergo considerable change, and on balance it was the Marine Corps' tradition of an all-white service, not its restrictive size, that proved to be the most significant factor influencing racial policy. Again unlike the Army and Navy, the Marine Corps lacked the practical experience with black recruits that might have countered many of the alarums and prejudices concerning Negroes that circulated within the corps during the war. The importance of this experience factor comes out in the reminiscences of a senior official in the Division of Plans and Policies who looked back on his 1942 experiences:

It just scared us to death when the colored were put on it. I went over to Selective Service and saw Gen. Hershey, and he turned me over to a lieutenant colonel [Campbell C. Johnson]—that was in April—and he was one grand person. I told him, "Eleanor [Mrs. Roosevelt] says we gotta take in Negroes, and we are just scared to death, we've never had any in, we don't know how to handle them, we are afraid of them." He said, "I'll do my best to help you get good ones. I'll get the word around that if you want to die young, join the Marines. So anybody that joins is got to be pretty good!" And it was the truth. We got some awfully good Negroes.[4-16]

Unfortunately for the peace of mind of the Marine Corps' personnel planner, the conception of a carefully limited and isolated black contingent was quickly overtaken by events. The President's decision to abolish volunteer enlistments for the armed forces in December 1942 and the subsequent establishment of a black quota for each component of the naval establishment meant that in the next year some 15,400 more Negroes, 10 percent of all Marine Corps inductees, would be added to the corps.[4-17] As it turned out the monthly draft calls were never completely filled, and by December 1943 only 9,916 of the scheduled black inductions had been completed, but by the time the corps stopped drafting men in 1946 it had received over 16,000 Negroes through the Selective Service. Including the 3,129 black volunteers, the number of Negroes in the Marine Corps during World War II totaled 19,168, approximately 4 percent of the corps' enlisted men.

The immediate problem of what to do with this sudden influx of Negroes was complicated by the fact that many of the draftees, the product of vastly inferior schooling, were incompetent. Where black volunteers had to pass the corps' (p. 104) rigid entrance requirements, draftees had only to meet the lowest selective service standards. An exact breakdown of black Marine Corps draftees by General Classification Test category is unavailable for the war period. A breakdown of some 15,000 black enlisted men, however, was compiled ten weeks after V-J day and included many of those drafted during the war. Category I represents the most gifted men:[4-18]

Category: I II III IV V
Percentage: 0.11 5.14 24.08 59.63 11.04

If these figures are used as a base, slightly more than 70 percent of all black enlisted men, more than 11,000, scored in the two lowest categories, a meaningless racial statistic in terms of actual numbers because the smaller percentage of the much larger group of white draftees in these categories gave the corps more whites than blacks in groups IV and V. Yet the statistic was important because low-scoring Negroes, unlike the low-scoring whites who could be scattered throughout the corps' units, had to be concentrated in a small number of segregated units to the detriment of those units. Conversely, the corps had thousands of Negroes with the mental aptitude to serve in regular combat units and a small but significant number capable of becoming officers. Yet these men were denied the opportunity to serve in combat or as officers because the segregation policy dictated that Negroes could not be assigned to a regular combat unit unless all the billets in that unit as well as all replacements were black—a practical impossibility during World War II.

Segregation, not the draft, forced the Marine Corps to devise new jobs and units to absorb the black inductees. A plan circulated in the Division of Plans and Policies called for more defense battalions, a branch for messmen, and the assignment of large black units to local bases to serve as chauffeurs, messengers, clerks, and janitors. Referring to the janitor assignment, one division official admitted that "I don't think we can get away with this type duty."[4-19] In the end the Negroes were not used as chauffeurs, messengers, clerks, and janitors. Instead the corps placed a "maximum practical number" in defense battalions. The number of these units, however, was limited, as Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt, the acting commandant, explained in March 1943, by the number of black noncommissioned officers available. Black noncommissioned officers were necessary, he continued, because in the Army's experience "in nearly all cases to intermingle colored and white enlisted personnel in the same organization" led to "trouble and disorder."[4-20] Demonstrating his own and the Marine Corps' lack of experience with black troops, the acting commandant went on to provide his commanders with some rather dubious advice based on what he perceived as the Army's experience: black units should be commanded by men "who thoroughly (p. 105) knew their [Negroes'] individual and racial characteristics and temperaments," and Negroes should be assigned to work they preferred.

Shore Party in Training, Camp Lejeune, 1942

Shore Party in Training, Camp Lejeune, 1942

The points emphasized in General Schmidt's letter to Marine commanders—a rigid insistence on racial separation and a willingness to work for equal treatment of black troops—along with an acknowledgement of the Marine Corps' lack of experience with racial problems were reflected in Commandant Holcomb's basic instruction on the subject of Negroes two months later: "All Marines are entitled to the same rights and privileges under Navy Regulations," and black marines could be expected "to conduct themselves with propriety and become a credit to the Marine Corps." General Holcomb was aware of the adverse effect of white noncommissioned officers on black morale, and he wanted them removed from black units as soon as possible. Since the employment of black marines was in itself a "new departure," he wanted to be informed periodically on how Negroes adapted to Marine Corps life, what their off-duty experience was with recreational facilities, and what their attitude was toward other marines.[4-21]

D-day on Peleliu.

D-day on Peleliu.
Support troops participate in the landing of 1st Marine Division.

These were generally progressive sentiments, evidence of the commandant's desire to provide for the peaceful assimilation and advancement of Negroes in the corps. Unfortunately for his reputation among the civil rights advocates, General Holcomb seemed overly concerned with certain social implications of rank (p. 106) and color. Undeterred by a lack of personal experience with interracial command, he was led in the name of racial harmony to an unpopular conclusion. "It is essential," he told his commanders, "that in no case shall there be colored noncommissioned officers senior to white men in the same unit, and desirable that few, if any be of the same rank."[4-22] He was particularly concerned with the period when white instructors and noncommissioned officers were being phased out of black units. He wanted Negroes up for promotion to corporal transferred, before promotion, out of any unit that contained white corporals.

Medical Attendants at Rest

Medical Attendants at Rest, Peleliu, October, 1944

The Division of Plans and Policies tried to follow these strictures as it set about organizing the new black units. Job preference had already figured in the organization of the new Messman's Branch established in January 1943. At that time Secretary Knox had approved the reconstitution of the corps' all-white Mess Branch as the Commissary Branch and the organization of an all-black Messman's (p. 107) Branch along the lines of the Navy's Steward's Branch.[4-23] In authorizing the new branch, which was quickly redesignated the Steward's Branch to conform to the Navy model, Secretary Knox specified that the members must volunteer for such duty. Yet the corps, under pressure to produce large numbers of stewards in the early months of the war, showed so little faith in the volunteer system that Marine recruiters were urged to induce half of all black recruits to sign on as stewards.[4-24] Original plans called for the assignment of one steward for every six officers, but the lack of volunteers and the needs of the corps quickly caused this estimate to be scaled down.[4-25] By 5 July 1944 the Steward's Branch numbered (p. 108) 1,442 men, roughly 14 percent of the total black strength of the Marine Corps.[4-26] It remained approximately this size for the rest of the war.

The admonition to employ black marines to the maximum extent practical in defense battalions was based on the mobilization planners' belief that each of these battalions, with its varied artillery, infantry, and armor units, would provide close to a thousand black marines with varied assignments in a self-contained, segregated unit. But the realities of the Pacific war and the draft quickly rendered these plans obsolete. As the United States gained the ascendancy, the need for defense battalions rapidly declined, just as the need for special logistical units to move supplies in the forward areas increased. The corps had originally depended on its replacement battalions to move the mountains of supply involved in amphibious assaults, but the constant flow of replacements to battlefield units and the need for men with special logistical skill had led in the middle of the war to the organization of pioneer battalions. To supplement the work of these shore party units and to absorb the rapidly growing number of black draftees, the Division of Plans and Policies eventually created fifty-one separate depot companies and twelve separate ammunition companies manned by Negroes. The majority of these new units served in base and service depots, handling ammunition and hauling supplies, but a significant number of them also served as part of the shore parties attached to the divisional assault units. These units often worked under enemy fire and on occasion joined in the battle as they moved supplies, evacuated the wounded, and secured the operation's supply dumps.[4-27] Nearly 8,000 men, about 40 percent of the corps' black enlistment, served in this sometimes hazardous combat support duty. The experience of these depot and ammunition companies provided the Marine Corps with an interesting irony. In contrast to Negroes in the other services, black marines trained for combat were never so used. Those trained for the humdrum labor tasks, however, found themselves in the thick of the fighting on Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and elsewhere, suffering combat casualties and winning combat citations for their units.

The increased allotment of black troops entering the corps and the commandant's call for replacing all white noncommissioned officers with blacks as quickly as they could be sufficiently trained caused problems for the black combat units. The 51st Defense Battalion in particular suffered many vicissitudes in its training and deployment. The 51st was the first black unit in the Marine Corps, a doubtful advantage considering the frequent reorganization and rapid troop turnover that proved its lot. At first the reception and training of all black inductees fell to the battalion, but in March 1943 a separate Headquarters Company, Recruit Depot Battalion, was organized at Montford Point.[4-28] Its cadre was drawn (p. 109) from the 51st, as were the noncommissioned officers and key personnel of the newly organized ammunition and depot companies and the black security detachments organized at Montford Point and assigned to the Naval Ammunition Depot, McAlester, Oklahoma, and the Philadelphia Depot of Supplies.

In effect, the 51st served as a specialist training school for the black combat units. When the second black defense battalion, the 52d, was organized in December 1943 its cadre, too, was drawn from the 51st. By the time the 51st was actually deployed, it had been reorganized several times and many of its best men had been siphoned off as leaders for new units. To compound these losses of experienced men, the battalion was constantly receiving large influxes of inexperienced and educationally deficient draftees and sometimes there was infighting among its officers.[4-29]

Training for black units only emphasized the rigid segregation enforced in the Marine Corps. After their segregated eight-week recruit training, the men were formed into companies at Montford Point; those assigned to the defense battalions were sent for specialist training in the weapons and equipment employed in such units, including radar, motor transport, communications, and artillery fire direction. Each of the ammunition companies sent sixty of its men to special ammunition and camouflage schools where they would be promoted to corporal when they completed the course. In contrast to the depot companies and elements of the defense battalions, the ammunition units would have white staff sergeants as ordnance specialists throughout the war. This exception to the rule of black noncommissioned officers for black units was later justified on the grounds that such units required experienced supervisors to emphasize and enforce safety regulations.[4-30] On the whole specialist training was segregated; whenever possible even the white instructors were rapidly replaced by blacks.

Before being sent overseas, black units underwent segregated field training, although the length of this training varied considerably according to the type of unit. Depot companies, for example, were labor units pure and simple, organized to perform simple tasks, and many of them were sent to the Pacific less than two weeks after activation. In contrast, the 51st Defense Battalion spent two months in hard field training, scarcely enough considering the number of raw recruits, totally unfamiliar with gunnery, that were being fed regularly into what was essentially an artillery battalion.

Gun Crew of the 52d Defense Battalion

Gun Crew of the 52d Defense Battalion
on duty, Central Pacific, 1945.

The experience of the two defense battalions demonstrates that racial consideration governed their eventual deployment just as it had decided their organization. With no further strategic need for defense battalions, the Marine Corps began to dismantle them in 1944, just as the two black units became operational and were about to be sent to the Central and South Pacific. The eighteen (p. 110) white defense battalions were subsequently reorganized as antiaircraft artillery battalions for use with amphibious groups in the forward areas. While the two black units were similarly reorganized, only they and one of the white units retained the title of defense battalion. Their deployment was also different. The policy of self-contained, segregated service was, in the case of a large combat unit, best followed in the rear areas, and the two black battalions were assigned to routine garrison duties in the backwaters of the theater, the 51st at Eniwetok in the Marshalls, the 52d at Guam. The latter unit saw nearly half its combat-trained men detailed to work as stevedores. It was not surprising that the morale in both units suffered.[4-31]

Even more explicitly racial was the warning of a senior combat commander to the effect that the deployment of black depot units to the Polynesian areas of the Pacific should be avoided. The Polynesians, he explained, were delightful people, and their "primitively romantic" women shared their intimate favors with one and all. Mixture with the white race had produced "a very high-class half-caste," mixture with the Chinese a "very desirable type," but the union of black and "Melanesian types ... produces a very undesirable citizen." The Marine (p. 111) Corps, Maj. Gen. Charles F. B. Price continued, had a special moral obligation and a selfish interest in protecting the population of American Samoa, especially, from intimacy with Negroes; he strongly urged therefore that any black units deployed to the Pacific should be sent to Micronesia where they "can do no racial harm."[4-32]

General Price must have been entertaining second thoughts, since two depot companies were already en route to Samoa at his request. Nevertheless, because of the "importance" of his reservations the matter was brought to the attention of the Director of Plans and Policies.[4-33] As a result, the assignment of the 7th and 8th Depot Companies to Samoa proved short-lived. Arriving on 13 October 1943, they were redeployed to the Ellice Islands in the Micronesia group the next day.

Thanks to the operations of the ammunition and depot companies, a large number of black marines, serving in small, efficient labor units, often exposed to enemy fire, made a valuable contribution. That so many black marines participated, at least from time to time, in the fighting may explain in part the fact that relatively few racial incidents took place in the corps during the war. But if many Negroes served in forward areas, they were all nevertheless severely restricted in opportunity. Black marines were excluded from the corps' celebrated combat divisions and its air arm. They were also excluded from the Women's Reserve, and not until the last months of the war did the corps accept its first black officer candidates. Marine spokesmen justified the latter exclusion on the grounds that the corps lacked facilities—that is, segregated facilities—for training black officers.[4-34]

These exclusions did not escape the attention of the civil rights spokesmen who took their demands to Secretary Knox and the White House.[4-35] It was to little avail. With the exception of the officer candidates in 1945, the separation of the races remained absolute, and Negroes continued to be excluded from the main combat units of the Marine Corps.

Crewmen of USCG Lifeboat Station

Crewmen of USCG Lifeboat Station, Pea Island, North Carolina,
ready surf boat for launching.

Personal prejudices aside, the desire for social harmony and the fear of the unknown go far toward explaining the Marine Corps' wartime racial policy. A small, specialized, and racially exclusive organization, the Marine Corps reacted to the directives of the Secretary of the Navy and the necessities of wartime operation with a rigid segregation policy, its black troops restricted to about 4 percent of its enlisted strength. A large part of this black strength was assigned to labor units where Negroes performed valuable and sometimes dangerous service in the Pacific war. Complaints from civil rights advocates abounded, but neither protests nor the cost to military efficiency of duplicating training facilities (p. 112) were of sufficient moment to overcome the sentiment against significant racial change, which was kept to a minimum. Judged strictly in terms of keeping racial harmony, the corps policy must be considered a success. Ironically this very success prevented any modification of that policy during the war.

New Roles for Black Coast Guardsmen

The Coast Guard's pre-World War II experience with Negroes differed from that of the other branches of the naval establishment. Unlike the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard could boast a tradition of black enlistment stretching far back into the previous century. Although it shared this tradition with the Navy, the Coast Guard, unlike the Navy, had always severely restricted Negroes both in terms of numbers enlisted and jobs assigned. A small group of Negroes manned a lifesaving station at Pea Island on North Carolina's outer banks. Negroes also served as crewmen at several lighthouses and on tenders in the Mississippi River basin; all were survivors of the transfer of the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard in 1939. These guardsmen were almost always segregated, although a few served in integrated crews or even commanded large Coast Guard vessels and small (p. 113) harbor craft.[4-36] They also served in the separate Steward's Branch, although it might be argued that the small size of most Coast Guard vessels integrated in fact men who were segregated in theory.

Coast Guard Recruits

Coast Guard Recruits
at Manhattan Beach Training Station, New York.

The lot of the black Coast Guardsman on a small cutter was not necessarily a happy one. To a surprising extent the enlisted men of the prewar Coast Guard were drawn from the eastern shore and outer banks region of the Atlantic coast where service in the Coast Guard had become a strong family tradition among a people whose attitude toward race was rarely progressive. Although these men tolerated an occasional small black Coast Guard crew or station, they might well resist close service with individual Negroes. One commander reported that racial harassment (p. 114) drove the solitary black in the prewar crew of the cutter Calypso out of the service.[4-37]

Coast Guard officials were obviously mindful of such potential troubles when, at Secretary Knox's bidding, they joined in the General Board's discussion of the expanded use of Negroes in the general service in January 1942. In the name of the Coast Guard, Commander Lyndon Spencer agreed with the objections voiced by the Navy and the Marine Corps, adding that the Coast Guard problem was "enhanced somewhat by the fact that our units are small and contacts between the men are bound to be closer." He added that while the Coast Guard was not "anxious to take on any additional problems at this time, if we have to we will take some of them [Negroes]."[4-38]

When President Roosevelt made it clear that Negroes were to be enlisted, Coast Guard Commandant Rear Adm. Russell R. Waesche had a plan ready. The Coast Guard would enlist approximately five hundred Negroes in the general service, he explained to the chairman of the General Board, Vice Adm. Walton R. Sexton. Some three hundred of these men would be trained for duty on small vessels, the rest for shore duty under the captain of the port of six cities throughout the United States. Although his plan made no provision for the training of black petty officers, the commandant warned Admiral Sexton that 50 to 65 percent of the crew in these small cutters and miscellaneous craft held such ratings, and it followed that Negroes would eventually be allowed to try for such ratings.[4-39]

Further refining the plan for the General Board on 24 February, Admiral Waesche listed eighteen vessels, mostly buoy tenders and patrol boats, that would be assigned black crews. All black enlistees would be sent to the Manhattan Beach Training Station, New York, for a basic training "longer and more extensive" than the usual recruit training. After recruit training the men would be divided into groups according to aptitude and experience and would undergo advanced instruction before assignment. Those trained for ship duty would be grouped into units of a size to enable them to go aboard and assume all but the petty officer ratings of the designated ships. The commandant wanted to initiate this program with a group of 150 men. No other Negroes would be enlisted until the first group had been trained and assigned to duty for a period long enough to permit a survey of its performance. Admiral Waesche warned that the whole program was frankly new and untried and was therefore subject to modification as it evolved.[4-40]

The plan was a major innovation in the Coast Guard's manpower policy. For the first time a number of Negroes, approximately 1.6 percent of the guard's total (p. 115) enlisted complement, would undergo regular recruit and specialized training.[4-41] More than half would serve aboard ship at close quarters with their white petty officers. The rest would be assigned to port duty with no special provision for segregated service. If the provision for segregating nonrated Coast Guardsmen when they were at sea was intended to prevent the development of racial antagonism, the lack of a similar provision for Negroes ashore was puzzling; but whatever the Coast Guard's reasoning in the matter, the General Board was obviously concerned with the provisions for segregation in the plan. Its chairman told Secretary Knox that the assignment of Negroes to the captains of the ports was a practical use of Negroes in wartime, since these men could be segregated in service units. But their assignment to small vessels, Admiral Sexton added, meant that "the necessary segregation and limitation of authority would be increasingly difficult to maintain" and "opportunities for advancement would be few." For that reason, he concluded, the employment of such black crews was practical but not desirable.[4-42]

The General Board was overruled, and the Coast Guard proceeded to recruit its first group of 150 black volunteers, sending them to Manhattan Beach for basic training in the spring of 1942. The small size of the black general service program precluded the establishment of a separate training station, but the Negroes were formed into a separate training company at Manhattan Beach. While training classes and other duty activities were integrated, sleeping and messing facilities were segregated. Although not geographically separated as were the black sailors at Camp Smalls or the marines at Montford Point, the black recruits of the separate training company at Manhattan Beach were effectively impressed with the reality of segregation in the armed forces.[4-43]

After taking a four-week basic course, those who qualified were trained as radiomen, pharmacists, yeomen, coxswains, fire controlmen, or in other skills in the seaman branch.[4-44] Those who did not so qualify were transferred for further training in preparation for their assignment to the captains of the ports. Groups of black Coast Guardsmen, for example, were sent to the Pea Island Station after their recruit training for several weeks' training in beach duties. Similar groups of white recruits were also sent to the Pea Island Station for training under the black chief boatswain's mate in charge.[4-45] By August 1942 some three hundred Negroes had been recruited, trained, and assigned to general service duties under the new program. At the same time the Coast Guard continued to recruit hundreds of Negroes for its separate Steward's Branch.

The (p. 116) commandant's program for the orderly induction and assignment of a limited number of black volunteers was, as in the case of the Navy and Marine Corps, abruptly terminated in December 1942 when the President ended volunteer enlistment for most military personnel. For the rest of the war the Coast Guard, along with the Navy and Marine Corps, came under the strictures of the Selective Service Act, including its racial quota system. The Coast Guard, however, drafted relatively few men, issuing calls for a mere 22,500 and eventually inducting only 15,296. But more than 12 percent of its calls (2,500 men between February and November 1943) and 13 percent of all those drafted (1,667) were Negro. On the average, 137 Negroes and 1,000 whites were inducted each month during 1943.[4-46] Just over 5,000 Negroes served as Coast Guardsmen in World War II.[4-47]

As it did for the Navy and Marine Corps, the sudden influx of Negroes from Selective Service necessitated a revision of the Coast Guard's personnel planning. Many of the new men could be assigned to steward duties, but by January 1943 the Coast Guard already had some 1,500 stewards and the branch could absorb only half of the expected black draftees. The rest would have to be assigned to the general service.[4-48] And here the organization and mission of the Coast Guard, far more so than those of the Navy and Marine Corps, militated against the formation of large segregated units. The Coast Guard had no use for the amorphous ammunition and depot companies and the large Seabee battalions of the rest of the naval establishment. For that reason the large percentage of its black seamen in the general service (approximately 37 percent of all black Coast Guardsmen) made a considerable amount of integration inevitable; the small number of Negroes in the general service (1,300 men, less than 1 percent of the total enlisted strength of the Coast Guard) made integration socially acceptable.

The majority of black Coast Guardsmen were only peripherally concerned with this wartime evolution of racial policy. Some 2,300 Negroes served in the racially separate Steward's Branch, performing the same duties in officer messes and quarters as stewards in the Navy and Marine Corps. But not quite, for the size of Coast Guard vessels and their crews necessitated the use of stewards at more important battle stations. For example, a group of stewards under the leadership of a black gun captain manned the three-inch gun on the afterdeck of the cutter Campbell and won a citation for helping to destroy an enemy submarine in February 1943.[4-49] The Personnel Division worked to make the separate Steward's Branch equal to the rest of the service in terms of promotion and emoluments, and there were instances when individual stewards successfully applied for ratings in general service.[4-50] Again, the close quarters aboard Coast Guard (p. 117) vessels made the talents of stewards for general service duties more noticeable to officers.[4-51] The evidence suggests, however, that the majority of the black stewards, about 63 percent of all the Negroes in the Coast Guard, continued to function as servants throughout the war. As in the rest of the naval establishment, the stewards in the Coast Guard were set apart not only by their limited service but also by different uniforms and the fact that chief stewards were not regarded as chief petty officers. In fact, the rank of chief steward was not introduced until the war led to an enlargement of the Coast Guard.[4-52]

Stewards at Battle Station

Stewards at Battle Station
on the afterdeck of the cutter Campbell.

The majority of black guardsmen in general service served ashore under the captains of the ports, local district commanders, or at headquarters establishments. Men in these assignments included hundreds in security and labor details, but more and more served as yeomen, radio operators, storekeepers, and the like. Other Negroes were assigned to local Coast Guard stations, and a second all-black station was organized during the war at Tiana Beach, New York. Still others participated in the Coast Guard's widespread beach (p. 118) patrol operations. Organized in 1942 as outposts and lookouts against possible enemy infiltration of the nation's extensive coastlines, the patrols employed more than 11 percent of all the Coast Guard's enlisted men. This large group included a number of horse and dog patrols employing only black guardsmen.[4-53] In all, some 2,400 black Coast Guardsmen served in the shore establishment.

Shore Leave in Scotland

Shore Leave in Scotland.
(The distinctive uniform of the Coast Guard steward is shown.)

The assignment of so many Negroes to shore duties created potential problems for the manpower planners, who were under orders to rotate sea and shore assignments periodically.[4-54] Given the many black general duty seamen denied sea duty because of the Coast Guard's segregation policy but promoted into the more desirable shore-based jobs to the detriment of whites waiting for rotation to such assignments, the possibility of serious racial trouble was obvious.

At least one officer in Coast Guard headquarters was concerned enough to recommend that the policy be revised. With two years' service in Greenland waters, the last year as executive officer of the USCGC Northland, Lt. Carlton Skinner had firsthand experience with the limitations of the Coast Guard's racial policy. While on the Northland Skinner had recommended that a skilled black (p. 119) mechanic, then serving as a steward's mate, be awarded a motor mechanic petty officer rating only to find his recommendation rejected on racial grounds. The rating was later awarded after an appeal by Skinner, but the incident set the stage for the young officer's later involvement with the Coast Guard's racial traditions. On shore duty at Coast Guard headquarters in June 1943, Skinner recommended to the commandant that a group of black seamen be provided with some practical seagoing experience under a sympathetic commander in a completely integrated operation. He emphasized practical experience in an integrated setting, he later revealed, because he was convinced that men with high test scores and specialized training did not necessarily make the best sailors, especially when their training was segregated. Skinner envisioned a widespread distribution of Negroes throughout the Coast Guard's seagoing vessels. His recommendation was no "experiment in social democracy," he later stressed, but was a design for "an efficient use of manpower to help win a war."[4-55]

Although Skinner's immediate superior forwarded the recommendation as "disapproved," Admiral Waesche accepted the idea. In November 1943 Skinner found himself transferred to the USS Sea Cloud (IX 99), a patrol ship operating in the North Atlantic as part of Task Force 24 reporting on weather conditions from four remote locations in northern waters.[4-56] The commandant also arranged for the transfer of black apprentice seamen, mostly from Manhattan Beach, to the Sea Cloud in groups of about twenty men, gradually increasing the number of black seamen in the ship's complement every time it returned to home station. Skinner, promoted to lieutenant commander and made captain of the Sea Cloud on his second patrol, later decided that the commandant had "figured he could take a chance on me and the Sea Cloud."[4-57]

It was a chance well taken. Before decommissioning in November 1944, the Sea Cloud served on ocean weather stations off the coasts of Greenland, Newfoundland, and France. It received no special treatment and was subject to the same tactical, operating, and engineering requirements as any other unit in the Navy's Atlantic Fleet. It passed two Atlantic Fleet inspections with no deficiencies and was officially credited with helping to sink a German submarine in June 1944. The Sea Cloud boasted a completely integrated operation, its 4 black officers and some 50 black petty officers and seamen serving throughout the ship's 173-man complement.[4-58] No problems of a racial nature arose on the ship, although its captain reported that his crew experienced some hostility in the various departments of the Boston Navy Yard from time to time. Skinner was determined to provide truly integrated conditions. He personally introduced his black (p. 120) officers into the local white officers' club, and he saw to it that when his men were temporarily detached for shore patrol duty they would go in integrated teams. Again, all these arrangements were without sign of racial incident.[4-59]

Commander Skinner and Crew of the Uss Sea Cloud.
Skinner officiates at awards ceremony.

It is difficult to assess the reasons for the commandant's decision to organize an integrated crew. One senior personnel officer later suggested that the Sea Cloud was merely a public relations device designed to still the mounting criticism by civil rights spokesmen of the lack of sea duty for black Coast Guardsmen.[4-60] The public relations advantage of an integrated ship operating in the war zone must have been obvious to Admiral Waesche, although the Coast Guard made no effort to publicize the Sea Cloud. In fact, this absence of special attention had been recommended by Skinner in his original proposal to the commandant. Such publicity, he felt, would disrupt the military experiment and make it more difficult to apply generally the experience gained.

Ensign Jenkins and Lieutenant Samuels

Ensign Jenkins and Lieutenant Samuels,
first black Coast Guard officers, on board the Sea Cloud.

The success of the Sea Cloud experiment did not lead to the widespread integration implied in Commander Skinner's recommendation. The only other extensively integrated Coast Guard vessel assigned to a war zone was the destroyer (p. 121) escort Hoquim, operating in 1945 out of Adak in the Aleutian Islands, convoying shipping along the Aleutian chain. Again, the commander of the ship was Skinner. Nevertheless the practical reasons for Skinner's first recommendation must also have been obvious to the commandant, and the evidence suggests that the Sea Cloud project was but one of a series of liberalizing moves the Coast Guard made during the war, not only to still the criticism in the black community but also to solve the problems created by the presence of a growing number of black seamen in the general service. There is also reason to believe that the Coast Guard's limited use of racially mixed crews influenced the Navy's decision to integrate the auxiliary fleet in 1945. Senior naval officials studied a report on the Sea Cloud, and one of Secretary Forrestal's assistants consulted Skinner on his experiences and their relation to greater manpower efficiency.[4-61]

Throughout the war the Coast Guard never exhibited the concern shown by the other services for the possible disruptive effects if blacks outranked whites. As the war progressed, more and more blacks advanced into petty officer ranks; by August 1945 some 965 Negroes, almost a third of their total number, were petty or warrant officers, many of them in the general service. Places for these trained specialists in any kind of segregated general service were extremely limited, and by the last year of the war many black petty officers could be found serving in mostly white crews and station complements. For example, a black pharmacist, second class, and a signalman, third class, served on the cutter Spencer, a black coxswain served on a cutter in the Greenland patrol, and other black petty officers were assigned to recruiting stations, to the loran program, and as instructors at the Manhattan Beach Training Station.[4-62]

The position of instructor at Manhattan Beach became the usual avenue to a commission for a Negro. Joseph C. Jenkins went from Manhattan Beach to the officer candidate school at the Coast Guard Academy, graduating as an ensign in the Coast Guard Reserve in April 1943, almost a full year before Negroes were commissioned in the Navy. Clarence Samuels, a warrant officer and instructor at Manhattan (p. 122) Beach, was commissioned as a lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned to the Sea Cloud in 1943. Harvey C. Russell was a signal instructor at Manhattan Beach in 1944 when all instructors were declared eligible to apply for commissions. At first rejected by the officer training school, Russell was finally admitted at the insistence of his commanding officer, graduated as an ensign, and was assigned to the Sea Cloud.[4-63]

These men commanded integrated enlisted seamen throughout the rest of the war. Samuels became the first Negro in this century to command a Coast Guard vessel in wartime, first as captain of Lightship No. 115 and later of the USCGC Sweetgum in the Panama Sea Frontier. Russell was transferred from the integrated Hoquim to serve as executive officer on a cutter operating out of the Philippines in the western Pacific, assuming command of the racially mixed crew shortly after the war.

At the behest of the White House, the Coast Guard also joined with the Navy in integrating its Women's Reserve. In the fall of 1944 it recruited five black women for the SPARS. Only token representation, but understandable since the SPARS ceased all recruitment except for replacements on 23 November 1944, just weeks after the decision to recruit Negroes was announced. Nevertheless the five women trained at Manhattan Beach and were assigned to various Coast Guard district offices without regard to race.[4-64]

This very real progress toward equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes in the Coast Guard must be assessed with the knowledge that the progress was experienced by only a minuscule group. Negroes never rose above 2.1 percent of the Coast Guard's wartime population, well below the figures for the other services. This was because the other services were forced to obtain draft-age men, including a significant number of black inductees from Selective Service, whereas the Coast Guard ceased all inductions in early 1944.

Despite their small numbers, however, the black Coast Guardsmen enjoyed a variety of assignments. The different reception accorded this small group of Negroes might, at least to some extent, be explained by the Coast Guard's tradition of some black participation for well over a century. To a certain extent this progress could also be attributed to the ease with which the directors of a small organization can reorder its policies.[4-65] But above all, the different reception accorded Negroes in the Coast Guard was a small organization's practical reaction to a pressing assimilation problem dictated by the manpower policies common throughout the naval establishment.

CHAPTER 5 (p. 123)

A Postwar Search

The nation's military leaders and the leaders of the civil rights movement were in rare accord at the end of World War II. They agreed that despite considerable wartime improvement the racial policies of the services had proved inadequate for the development of the full military potential of the country's largest minority as well as the efficient operation and management of the nation's armed forces. Dissatisfaction with the current policy of the armed forces was a spearpoint of the increasingly militant and powerful civil rights movement, and this dissatisfaction was echoed to a great extent by the services themselves. Intimate association with minority problems had convinced the Army's Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies and the Navy's Special Programs Unit that new policies had to be devised and new directions sought. Confronted with the incessant demands of the civil rights advocates and presented by their own staffs with evidence of trouble, civilian leaders of the services agreed to review the status of the Negro. As the postwar era opened, both the Army and the Navy were beginning the interminable investigations that augured a change in policy.

Unfortunately, the services and the civil rights leaders had somewhat different ends in mind. Concerned chiefly with military efficiency but also accustomed to racial segregation or exclusion, most military leaders insisted on a rigid appraisal of the performance of segregated units in the war and ignored the effects of segregation on that performance. Civil rights advocates, on the other hand, seeing an opportunity to use the military as a vehicle for the extension of social justice, stressed the baneful effects of segregation on the black serviceman's morale. They were inclined to ignore the performance of the large segregated units and took issue with the premise that desegregation of the armed forces in advance of the rest of American society would threaten the efficient execution of the services' military mission. Neither group seemed able to appreciate the other's real concerns, and their contradictory conclusions promised a renewal of the discord in their wartime relationship.

Black Demands

World War II marked the beginning of an important step in the evolution of the civil rights movement. Until then the struggle for racial equality had been sustained chiefly by the "talented tenth," the educated, middle-class black citizens who formed an economic and political alliance with white supporters. Together (p. 124) they fought to improve the racial situation with some success in the courts, but with little progress in the executive branch and still less in the legislative. The efforts of men like W. E. B. DuBois, Walter White, and Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP and Lester Granger of the National Urban League were in the mainstream of the American reform movement, which stressed an orderly petitioning of government for a redress of grievances.

But there was another facet to the American reform tradition, one that stressed mass action and civil disobedience, and the period between the March on Washington Movement in 1940 and the threat of a black boycott of the draft in 1948 witnessed the beginnings of a shift in the civil rights movement to this kind of reform tactic. The articulate leaders of the prewar struggle were still active, and in fact would make their greatest contribution in the fight that led to the Supreme Court's pronouncement on school segregation in 1954. But their quiet methods were already being challenged by A. Philip Randolph and others who launched a sustained demand for equal treatment and opportunity in the armed forces during the early postwar period. Randolph and leaders of his persuasion relied not so much on legal eloquence in their representations to the federal government as on an understanding of bloc voting in key districts and the implicit threat of civil disobedience. The civil rights campaign, at least in the effort to end segregation in the armed forces, had the appearance of a mass movement a full decade before a weary Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery bus and set off the all-embracing crusade of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The growing political power of the Negro and the threat of mass action in the 1940's were important reasons for the breakthrough on the color front that began in the armed forces in the postwar period. For despite the measure of good will and political acumen that characterized his social programs, Harry S. Truman might never have made the effort to achieve racial equality in the services without the constant pressure of civil rights activists.

The reasons for the transformation that was beginning in the civil rights struggle were varied and complex.[5-1] Fundamental was the growing urbanization of the Negro. By 1940 almost half the black population lived in cities. As the labor shortage became more acute during the next five years, movement toward the cities continued, not only in the south but in the north and west. Attracted by economic opportunities in Los Angeles war industries, for example, over 1,000 Negroes moved to that city each month during the war. Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco, among others, reported similar migrations. The balance finally shifted during the war, and the 1950 census showed that 56 percent of the (p. 125) black population resided in metropolitan areas, 32 percent in cities of the north and west.[5-2]

This mass migration, especially to cities outside the south, was of profound importance to the future of American race relations. It meant first that the black masses were separating themselves from the archaic social patterns that had ruled their lives for generations. Despite virulent discrimination and prejudice in northern and western cities, Negroes could vote freely and enjoy some protection of the law and law-enforcement machinery. They were free of the burden of Jim Crow. Along with white citizens they were given better schooling, a major factor in improving status. The mass migration also meant that this part of America's peasantry was rapidly joining America's proletariat. The wartime shortage of workers, coupled with the efforts of the Fair Employment Practices Committee and other government agencies, opened up thousands of jobs previously denied black Americans. The number of skilled craftsmen, foremen, and semiskilled workers among black Americans rose from 500,000 to over 1,000,000 during the war, while the number of Negroes working for the federal government increased from 60,000 to 200,000.[5-3]

Though much of the increase in black employment was the result of temporarily expanded wartime industries, black workers gained valuable training and experience that enabled them to compete more effectively for postwar jobs. Employment in unionized industries strengthened their position in the postwar labor movement. The severity of inevitable postwar cuts in black employment was mitigated by continued prosperity and the sustained growth of American industry. Postwar industrial development created thousands of new upper-level jobs, allowing many black workers to continue their economic advance without replacing white workers and without the attendant development of racial tensions.

The armed forces played their part in this change. Along with better food, pay, and living conditions provided by the services, many Negroes were given new work experiences. Along with many of their white fellows, they acquired new skills and a new sophistication that prepared them for the different life of the postwar industrial world. Most important, military service in World War II divorced many Negroes from a society whose traditions had carefully defined their place, and exposed them for the first time to a community where racial equality, although imperfectly realized, was an ideal. Out of this experience many Negroes came to understand that their economic and political position could be changed. Ironically, the services themselves became an early target of this rising self-awareness. The integration of the armed forces, immediate and total, was a popular goal of the newly franchised voting group, which was turning away from leaders of both races who preached a philosophy of gradual change.

The (p. 126) black press was spokesman for the widespread demand for equality in the armed forces; just as the growth of the black press was dramatically stimulated by urbanization of the Negro, so was the civil rights movement stimulated by the press. The Pittsburgh Courier was but one of many black papers and journals that developed a national circulation and featured countless articles on the subject of discrimination in the services. One black sociologist observed that it was "no exaggeration to say that the Negro press was the major influence in mobilizing Negroes in the struggle for their rights during World War II."[5-4] Sometimes inaccurate, often inflammatory, and always to the consternation of the military, the black press rallied the opposition to segregation during and after the war.

Much of the black unrest and dissatisfaction dramatized by the press continued to be mobilized through the efforts of such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, and the Congress of Racial Equality. The NAACP, for example, revitalized by a new and broadened appeal to the black masses, had some 1,200 branches in forty-three states by 1946 and boasted a membership of more than half a million. While the association continued to fight for minority rights in the courts, to stimulate black political participation, and to improve the conditions of Negroes generally, its most popular activity during the 1940's was its effort to eliminate discrimination in the armed forces. The files of the services and the White House are replete with NAACP complaints, requests, demands, and charges that involved the military departments in innumerable investigations and justifications. If the complaints effected little immediate change in policy, they at least dramatized the plight of black servicemen and mobilized demands for reform.[5-5]

Not all racial unrest was so constructively channeled during the war. Riots and mutinies in the armed services were echoed around the country. In Detroit competition between blacks and whites, many recently arrived from the south seeking jobs, culminated in June 1943 in the most serious riot of the decade. The President was forced to declare a state of emergency and dispatch 6,000 troops to patrol the city. The Detroit riot was only the most noticeable of a number of racial incidents that inevitably provoked an ugly reaction, and the postwar period witnessed an increase in antiblack sentiment and violence in the United States.[5-6] Testifying to the black community's economic and political progress during the war as well as a corresponding increase in white awareness of and protest against the mistreatment of black citizens, this antiblack sentiment was only the pale ghost of a similar phenomenon after World War I.

President Truman Addressing the NAACP Convention

President Truman Addressing the NAACP Convention,
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., June 1947.
Seated at the President's left are Walter White, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Senator Wayne Morse;
visible in the rear row are Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz, Attorney General Tom C. Clark, and Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson

Nevertheless, the sentiment was widespread. Traveling cross-country in a train during Christmastime, 1945, the celebrated American essayist Bernard De Voto (p. 127) was astonished to hear expressions of antiblack sentiment. In Wisconsin, "a state where I think I had never before heard the word 'nigger,' that [dining] car was full of talk about niggers and what had to be done about them."[5-7] A white veteran bore out the observation. "Anti-Negro talk ... is cropping up in many places ... the assumption [being] that there is more prejudice, never less.... Throughout the war the whites were segregated from the Negroes (why not say it this way for a change?) so that there were almost no occasions for white soldiers to get any kind of an impression of Negroes, favorable or otherwise." There had been some race prejudice among servicemen, but, the veteran asked, "What has caused this anti-Negro talk among those who stayed at home?"[5-8] About the same time, a U.S. senator was complaining to the Secretary of (p. 128) War that white and black civilians at Kelly Field, Texas, shared the same cafeterias and other facilities. He hoped the secretary would look into the matter to prevent disturbances that might grow out of a policy of this sort.[5-9]

Nor did the armed forces escape the rise in racial tension. For example, the War Department received many letters from the public and members of Congress when black officers, nearly the base's entire contingent of four hundred, demonstrated against the segregation of the officers' club at Freeman Field, Indiana, in April 1945. The question at issue was whether a post commander had the authority to exclude individuals on grounds of race from recreational facilities on an Army post. The Army Air Forces supported the post commander and suggested a return to a policy of separate and equal facilities for whites and blacks, primarily because a club for officers was a social center for the entire family. Since it was hardly an accepted custom in the country for the races to intermingle, officials argued, the Army had to follow rather than depart from custom, and, further, the wishes of white officers as well as those of Negroes deserved consideration.[5-10]

The controversy reached the desk of John McCloy, the Assistant Secretary of War, who considered the position taken by the Army Air Forces a backward step, a reversal of the War Department position in an earlier and similar case at Selfridge Field, Michigan. McCloy's contention prevailed—that the commander's administrative discretion in these matters fell short of authority to exclude individuals from the right to enjoy recreational facilities provided by the federal government or maintained with its funds. Secretary of War Stimson agreed to amend the basic policy to reflect this clarification.[5-11]

In December 1945 the press reported and the War and Navy Departments investigated an incident at Le Havre, France, where soldiers were embarking for the United States for demobilization. Officers of a Navy escort carrier objected to the inclusion of 123 black enlisted men on the grounds that the ship was unable to provide separate accommodations for Negroes. Army port authorities then substituted another group that included only one black officer and five black enlisted men who were placed aboard over the protests of the ship's officers.[5-12] The Secretary of the Navy had already declared that the Navy did not differentiate (p. 129) between men on account of race, and on 12 December 1945 he reiterated his statement, adding that it applied to members of all the armed forces.[5-13] Demonstrating the frequent gap between policy and practice, Forrestal's order was ignored six months later by port officials when a group of black officers and men was withdrawn from a shipping list at Bremerhaven, Germany, on the grounds that "segregation is a War Department policy."[5-14]

Overt antiblack behavior and social turbulence in the civilian community also reached into the services. In February 1946 Issac Woodard, Jr., who had served in the Army for fifteen months in the Pacific, was ejected from a commercial bus and beaten by civilian police. Sergeant Woodard had recently been discharged from the Army at Camp Gordon, Georgia, and was still in uniform at the time of the brutal attack that blinded him. His case was quickly taken up by the NAACP and became the centerpiece of a national protest.[5-15] Not only did the civil rights spokesmen protest the sadistic blinding, they also charged that the Army was incapable of protecting its own members in the community.

While service responsibility for countering off-base discrimination against servicemen was still highly debatable in 1946, the right of men on a military base to protection was uncontestable. Yet even service practices on military bases were under attack as racial conflicts and threats of violence multiplied. "Dear Mother," one soldier stationed at Sheppard Field, Texas, felt compelled to write in early 1946, "I don't know how long I'll stay whole because when those Whites come over to start [trouble] again I'll be right with the rest of the fellows. Nothing to worry about. Love,..."[5-16] If the soldier's letter revealed continuing racial conflict in the service, it also testified to a growing racial unity among black servicemen that paralleled the trend in the black community. When Negroes could resolve with a new self-consciousness to "be right with the rest of the fellows," their cause was immeasurably strengthened and their goals brought appreciably nearer.

Assistant Secretary McCloy

Assistant Secretary McCloy

Civil rights spokesmen had several points to make regarding the use of Negroes in the postwar armed forces. Referring to the fact that World War II began with Negroes fighting for the right to fight, they demanded that the services guarantee a fair representation of Negroes in the postwar forces. Furthermore, to avoid the frustration suffered by Negroes trained for combat and then converted into service troops, they demanded that Negroes be trained and employed in all military specialties. They particularly stressed the correlation between poor leaders and poor units. The services' command practices, they charged, had frequently led to the appointment of the wrong men, either black or white, to command black units. Their principal solution was to provide for the promotion and proper employment of a proportionate share of competent black officers and noncommissioned officers. Above all, they pointed to the humiliations (p. 130) black soldiers suffered in the community outside the limits of the base.[5-17] One particularly telling example of such discrimination that circulated in the black press in 1945 described German prisoners of war being fed in a railroad restaurant while their black Army guards were forced to eat outside. But such discrimination toward black servicemen was hardly unique, and the civil rights advocates were quick to point to the connection between such practices and low morale and performance. For them there was but one answer to such discrimination: all men must be treated as individuals and guaranteed equal treatment and opportunity in the services. In a word, the armed forces must integrate. They pointed with pride to the success of those black soldiers who served in integrated units in the last months of the European war, and they repeatedly urged the complete abolition of segregation in the peacetime Army and Navy.[5-18]

When an executive of the National Urban League summed up these demands for President Truman at the end of the war, he clearly indicated that the changes in military policy that had brought about the gradual improvement in the lot of black servicemen during the war were now beside the point.[5-19] The military might try to ignore this fact for a little while longer; a politically sensitive President was not about to make such an error.

The Army's Grand Review

In the midst of this intensifying sentiment for integration, in fact a full year before the war ended, the Army began to search for a new racial policy. The invasion of Normandy and the extraordinary advance to Paris during the summer of 1944 had led many to believe that the war in Europe would soon be over, perhaps by fall. As the Allied leaders at the Quebec Conference in September discussed arrangements to be imposed on a defeated Germany, American officials in Washington began to consider plans for the postwar period. Among them was Assistant Secretary of War McCloy. Dissatisfied with the manner in which the Army was using black troops, McCloy believed it was time to start planning (p. 131) how best to employ them in the postwar Army, which, according to current assumptions, would be small and professional and would depend upon a citizen reserve to augment it in an emergency.

Truman Gibson

Truman Gibson

McCloy concluded that despite a host of prewar studies by the General Staff, the Army War College, and other military agencies, the Army was unprepared during World War II to deal with and make the most efficient use of the large numbers of Negroes furnished by Selective Service. Policies for training and employing black troops had developed in response to specific problems rather than in accordance with a well thought out and comprehensive plan. Because of "inadequate preparation prior to the period of sudden expansion," McCloy believed a great many sources of racial irritation persisted. To develop a "definite, workable policy, for the inclusion and utilization in the Army of minority racial groups" before postwar planning crystallized and solidified, McCloy suggested to his assistants that the War Department General Staff review existing practices and experiences at home and abroad and recommend changes.[5-20]

The Chief of Staff, General Marshall, continued to insist that the Army's racial problem was but part of a larger national problem and, as McCloy later recalled, had no strong views on a solution.[5-21] Whatever his personal feelings, Marshall, like most Army staff officers, always emphasized efficiency and performance to the exclusion of social concerns. While he believed that the limited scope of the experiment with integrated platoons toward the end of the war in Europe made the results inconclusive, Marshall still wanted the platoons' performance considered in the general staff study.[5-22]

The idea of a staff study on the postwar use of black troops also found favor with Secretary Stimson, and a series of conferences and informal discussions on the best way to go about it took place in the highest echelons of the Army during the early months of 1945. The upshot was a decision to ask the senior commanders at home and overseas for their comments. How did they train and use their black troops? What irritations, frictions, and disorders arising from racial conflicts (p. 132) had hampered their operations? What were their recommendations on how best to use black troops after the war? Two weeks after the war ended in Europe, a letter with an attached questionnaire was sent to senior commanders.[5-23] The questionnaire asked for such information as: "To what extent have you maintained segregation beyond the actual unit level, and what is your recommendation on this subject? If you have employed Negro platoons in the same company with white platoons, what is your opinion of the practicability of this arrangement?"

Not everyone agreed that the questionnaire was the best way to review the performance of Negroes in World War II. Truman Gibson, for one, doubted the value of soliciting information from senior commanders, feeling that these officers would offer much subjective material of little real assistance. Referring to the letter to the major senior commanders, he said:

Mere injunctions of objectivity do not work in the racial field where more often than not decisions are made on a basis of emotion, prejudice or pre-existing opinion.... Much of the difficulty in the Army has arisen from improper racial attitudes on both sides. Indeed, the Army's basic policy of segregation is said to be based principally on the individual attitudes and desires of the soldiers.

But who knew what soldiers' attitudes were? Why not, he suggested, make some scientific inquiries? Why not try to determine, for example, how far public opinion and pressure would permit the Army to go in developing policies for black troops?[5-24]

Gibson had become, perforce, an expert on public opinion. During the last several months he had suffered the slings and arrows of an outraged black press for his widely publicized analysis of the performance of black troops. Visiting black units and commanders in the Mediterranean and European theaters to observe, in McCloy's words, "the performance of Negro troops, their attitudes, and the attitudes of their officers toward them,"[5-25] Gibson had arrived in Italy at the end of February 1945 to find theater officials concerned over the poor combat record of the 92d Infantry Division, the only black division in the theater and one of three activated by the War Department. After a series of discussions with senior commanders and a visit to the division, Gibson participated in a press conference in Rome during which he spoke candidly of the problems of the division's infantry units.[5-26] Subsequent news reports of the conference stressed Gibson's confirmation of the division's disappointing performance, but neglected the reasons he advanced to explain its failure. The reports earned a swift (p. 133) and angry retort from the black community. Many organizations and journals condemned Gibson's evaluation of the 92d outright. Some seemed less concerned with the possible accuracy of his statement than with the effects it might have on the development of future military policy. The NAACP's Crisis, for example, charged that Gibson had "carried the ball for the War Department," and that "probably no more unfortunate words, affecting the representatives of the entire race, were ever spoken by a Negro in a key position in such a critical hour. We seem destined to bear the burden of Mr. Gibson's Rome adventure for many years to come."[5-27]

Other black journals took a more detached view of the situation, asserting that Gibson's remarks revealed nothing new and that the problem was segregation, of which the 92d was a notable victim. Gibson took this tack in his own defense, pointing to the irony of a situation in which "some people can, on the one hand, argue that segregation is wrong, and on the other ... blindly defend the product of that segregation."[5-28]

Gibson had defenders in the Army whose comments might well apply to all the large black units in the war. At one extreme stood the Allied commander in Italy, General Mark W. Clark, who attributed the 92d's shortcomings to "our handling of minority problems at home." Most of all, General Clark thought, black soldiers needed the incentive of feeling that they were fighting for home and country as equals. But his conclusion—"only the proper environment in his own country can provide such an incentive"—neatly played down Army responsibility for the division's problems.[5-29]

Another officer, who as commander of a divisional artillery unit was intimately acquainted with the division's shortcomings, delineated an entirely different set of causes. The division was doomed to mediocrity and worse, Lt. Col. Marcus H. Ray concluded, from the moment of its activation. Undercurrents of racial antipathy as well as distrust and prejudice, he believed, infected the organization from the outset and created an unhealthy beginning. The practice of withholding promotion from deserving black officers along with preferential assignments for white officers prolonged the malady. The basic misconception was that southern white officers understood Negroes; under such officers Negroes who conformed with the southern stereotype were promoted regardless of their abilities, while those who exhibited self-reliance and self-respect—necessary attributes of leadership—were humiliated and discouraged for their uppityness. "I was astounded," he said, "by the willingness of the white officers who preceded us to place their own lives in a hazardous position in order to have tractable Negroes around them."[5-30] In short, the men of the 92d who fought and died bravely should be honored, but their unit, which on balance (p. 134) did not perform well, should be considered a failure of white leadership.

Company I, 370th Infantry

Company I, 370th Infantry,
92d Division
, advances through Cascina, Italy.

Lt. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., then Fifth Army commander in Italy, disagreed. Submitting the proceedings of a board of review that had investigated the effectiveness of black officers and enlisted men in the 92d Division, he was sympathetic to the frustrations encountered by the division commander, Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond. "In justice to those splendid officers"—a reference to the white senior commanders and staff members of the division—"who have devoted themselves without stint in an endeavor to produce a combat division with Negro personnel and who have approached this problem without prejudice," Truscott endorsed the board's hard view that many infantrymen in the division "would not fight."[5-31] This conclusion was in direct conflict with the widely held and respected truism that competent leadership solved all problems, from which it followed that the answer to the problem of Negroes in combat was command. Good commanders prevented friction, performed their mission effectively, and achieved success no matter what the obstacles—a view put forth in a typical report from World War II that "the efficiency of Negro units depends entirely on the leadership of officers and NCO's."[5-32]

In fact, General Truscott's analysis of the 92d Division's problems seemed at variance with his analysis of command problems in other units, as illustrated by his later attention to problems in the all-white 34th Infantry Division.[5-33] The habit of viewing unit problems as command problems was also demonstrated by General Jacob L. Devers, who was deputy Allied commander in the Mediterranean when the 92d arrived in Italy. Reflecting later upon the 92d Division, General Devers agreed that its engineer and armor unit performed well, but the infantry did not "because their commanders weren't good enough."[5-34]

Years (p. 135) later General Almond, the division's commander, was to claim that the 92d Division had done "many things well and some things poorly." It fought in extremely rugged terrain against a determined enemy over an exceptionally broad front. The division's artillery as well as its technical and administrative units performed well. Negroes also excelled in intelligence work and in dealing with the Italian partisans. On the other hand, General Almond reported, infantry elements were unable to close with the enemy and destroy him. Rifle squads, platoons, and companies tended "to melt away" when confronted by determined opposition. Almond blamed this on "a lack of dedication to purpose, pride of accomplishment and devotion to duty and teammates by the majority of black riflemen assigned to Infantry Units."[5-35]

Similar judgments were expressed concerning the combat capability of the other major black unit, the 93d Infantry Division.[5-36] When elements of the 93d, the 25th Regimental Combat Team in particular, participated in the Bougainville campaign in the Solomon Islands, their performance was the subject of constant scrutiny by order of the Chief of Staff.[5-37] The combat record of the 25th included enough examples of command and individual failure to reinforce the War Department's decision in mid-1944 to use the individual units of the division in security, laboring, and training duties in quiet areas of the theater, leaving combat to more seasoned units.[5-38] During the last year of the war the 93d performed missions that were essential but not typical for combat divisions.

Analyses of the division's performance ran along familiar lines. The XIV Corps commander, under whom the division served, rated the performance of the 25th Regimental Combat Team infantry as fair and artillery as good, but found the unit, at least those parts commanded by black officers, lacking in initiative, inadequately trained, and poorly disciplined. Other reports tended to agree. All of them, along with reports on the 24th Infantry, another black unit serving in the area, were assembled in Washington for Assistant Secretary McCloy. While he admitted important limitations in the performance of the units, McCloy nevertheless remained encouraged. Not so the Secretary of War. "I do not believe," he told McCloy, "they can be turned into really effective combat troops without all officers being white."[5-39]

Black officers of the 93d, however, entertained a different view. They generally cited command and staff inefficiencies as the major cause of the division's discipline and morale problems. One respondent, a company commander in (p. 136) the 25th Infantry, singled out the "continuous dissension and suspicion characterizing the relations between white and colored officers of the division." All tended to stress what they considered inadequate jungle training, and, like many white observers, they all agreed the combat period was too brief to demonstrate the division's developing ability.[5-40]

92d Division Engineers Prepare a Ford

92d Division Engineers Prepare a Ford for Arno River Traffic

Despite the performance of some individuals and units praised by all, the combat performance of the 92d and 93d Infantry Divisions was generally considered less than satisfactory by most observers. A much smaller group of commentators, mostly black journalists, never accepted the prevailing view. Pointing to the decorations and honors received by individuals in the two divisions, they charged that the adverse reports were untrue, reflections of the prejudices of white officers. Such an assertion presupposed that hundreds of officers and War Department officials were so consumed with prejudice that they falsified the record. And the argument from decorations, as one expert later pointed out, faltered (p. 137) once it was understood that the 92d and 93d Infantry Divisions combined a relatively high number of decorations with relatively few casualties.[5-41]

Actually, there was little doubt that the performance of the black divisions in World War II was generally unacceptable. Beyond that common conclusion, opinions diverged widely. Commanders tended to blame undisciplined troops and lack of initiative and control by black officers and noncommissioned officers as the primary cause of the difficulty. Others, particularly black observers, cited the white officers and their lack of racial sensitivity. In fact, as Ulysses Lee points out with careful documentation, all these factors were involved, but the underlying problem usually overlooked by observers was segregation. Large, all-black combat units submerged able soldiers in a sea of men with low aptitude and inadequate training. Segregation also created special psychological problems for junior black officers. Carefully assigned so that they never commanded white officers or men, they were often derided by white officers whose attitudes were quickly sensed by the men to the detriment of good discipline. Segregation was also a factor in the rapid transfer of men in and out of the divisions, thus negating the possible benefits of lengthy training. Furthermore, the divisions were natural repositories for many dissatisfied or inadequate white officers, who introduced a host of other problems.

Truman Gibson was quick to point out how segregation had intensified the problem of turning civilians into soldiers and groups into units. The "dissimilarity in the learning profiles" between black and white soldiers as reflected in their AGCT scores was, he explained to McCloy, primarily a result of inferior black schooling, yet its practical effect on the Army was to burden it with several large units of inferior combat ability (Table 2). In addition to the fact that large black units had a preponderance of slow learners, Gibson emphasized that nearly all black soldiers were trained near "exceedingly hostile" communities. This hostile atmosphere, he believed, had played a decisive role in their adjustment to Army life and adversely affected individual motivation. Gibson also charged the Army with promoting some black officers who lacked leadership qualifications and whose performance, consequently, was under par. He recommended a single measure of performance for officers and a single system for promotion, even if this system reduced promotions for black officers. Promotions on any basis other than merit, he concluded, deprived the Army of the best leadership and inflicted weak commanders on black units.

Table 2—AGCT Percentages in Selected World War II Divisions

Unit I II III IV V Total
(130 +) (110 - 120) (90 - 109) (60 - 89) (0 - 59)  
11th Armored Division  3.0 23.8 33.8 33.1   6.3 100  
35th Infantry Division  3.3 27.0 34.2 28.0   7.5 100  
92d Infantry Division (Negro)  0.4   5.2 11.8 43.5 39.1 100  
93d Infantry Division (Negro)  0.1   3.5 13.0 38.4 45.0 100  
100th Infantry Division  3.6 27.1 34.1 29.1   6.1 100  

Source: Tables submitted by The Adjutant General to the Gillem Board, 1945.

Gibson (p. 138) was not trying to magnify the efficiency of segregated units. He made a special effort to compare the performance of the 92d Division with that of the integrated black platoons in Germany because such a comparison would demonstrate, he believed, that the Army's segregation policy was in need of critical reexamination. He cited "many officers" who believed that the problems connected with large segregated combat units justified their abolition in favor of the integration of black platoons into larger white units. Although such unit integration would not abolish segregation completely, Gibson concluded, it would permit the Army to use men and small units on the basis of ability alone.[5-42]

The flexibility Gibson detected among many Army officers was not apparent in the answers to the McCloy questionnaire that flowed into the War Department during the summer and fall of 1945. With few exceptions, the senior officers queried expressed uniform reactions. They reiterated a story of frustration and difficulty in training and employing black units, characterized black soldiers as unreliable and inefficient, and criticized the performance of black officers and noncommissioned officers. They were particularly concerned with racial disturbances, which, they believed, were not only the work of racial agitators but also the result of poor morale and a sense of discrimination among black troops. Yet they wanted to retain segregation, albeit in units of smaller size, and they wanted to depend, for the most part, on white officers to command these black units. Concerned with performance, pragmatic rather than reflective in their habits, the commanders showed little interest in or understanding of the factors responsible for the conditions of which they complained. Many believed that segregation actually enhanced black pride.[5-43]

These responses were summarized by the commanding generals of the major force commands at the request of the War Department's Special Planning Division.[5-44] For example, the study prepared by the Army Service Forces, which had employed a high proportion of black troops in its technical services during the war, passed on the recommendations made by these far-flung commands and touched incidentally on several of the points raised by Gibson.[5-45] Like Gibson, the (p. 139) Army Service Forces recommended that Negroes of little or no education be denied induction or enlistment and that no deviation from normal standards for the sake of maintaining racial quotas in the officer corps be tolerated. The Army Service Forces also wanted Negroes employed in all major forces, participating proportionately in all phases of the Army's mission, including overseas and combat assignments, but not in every occupation. For the Army Service Forces had decided that Negroes performed best as truck drivers, ammunition handlers, stevedores, cooks, bakers, and the like and should be trained in these specialties rather than more highly skilled jobs such as armorer or machinist. Even in the occupations they were best suited to, Negroes should be given from a third more to twice as much training as whites, and black units should have 25 to 50 percent more officers than white units. At the same time, the Army Service Forces wanted to retain segregated units, although it recommended limiting black service units to company size. Stating in conclusion that it sought only "to insure the most efficient training and utilization of Negro manpower" and would ignore the question of racial equality or the "wisdom of segregation in the social sense," the Army Service Forces overlooked the possibility that the former could not be attained without consideration of the latter.

The Army Ground Forces, which trained black units for all major branches of the field forces, also wanted to retain black units, but its report concluded that these units could be of battalion size. The organization of black soldiers in division-size units, it claimed, only complicated the problem of training because of the difficulty in developing the qualified black technicians, noncommissioned officers, and field grade officers necessary for such large units and finding training locations as well as assignment areas with sufficient off-base recreational facilities for large groups of black soldiers. The Army Ground Forces considered the problem of finding and training field grade officers particularly acute since black units employing black officers, at least in the case of infantry, had proved ineffective. Yet white officers put in command of black troops felt they were being punished, and their presence added to the frustration of the blacks.

The Army Ground Forces was also particularly concerned with racial disturbances, which, it believed, stemmed from conflicting white and black concepts of the Negro's place in the social pattern. The Army Ground Forces saw no military solution for a problem that transcended the contemporary national emergency, and its conclusion—that the solution lay in society at large and not primarily in the armed forces—had the effect, whether or not so intended, of neatly exonerating the Army. In fact, the detailed conclusions and recommendations of the Army Ground Forces were remarkably similar to those of the Army Service Forces, but the Ground Forces study, more than any other, was shot full with blatant racism. The study quoted a 1925 War College study to the effect (p. 140) that the black officer was "still a Negro with all the faults and weaknesses of character inherent in the Negro race." It also discussed the "average Negro" and his "inherent characteristics" at great length, dwelling on his supposed inferior mentality and weakness of character, and raising other racial shibboleths. Burdened with these prejudices, the Army Ground Forces study concluded

that the conception that negroes should serve in the military forces, or in particular parts of the military forces, or sustain battle losses in proportion to their population in the United States, may be desirable but is impracticable and should be abandoned in the interest of a logical solution to the problem of the utilization of negroes in the armed forces.[5-46]

The Army Air Forces, another large employer of black servicemen, reported a slightly different World War II experience. Conforming with departmental policies on utilizing black soldiers, it had selected Negroes for special training on the same basis as whites with the exception of aviation cadets. Negroes with a lower stanine (aptitude) had been accepted in order to secure enough candidates to meet the quota for pilots, navigators, and bombardiers in the black units. In its preliminary report to the War Department on the employment of Negroes, the Army Air Forces admitted that individuals of both races with similar aptitudes and test scores had the same success in technical schools, could be trained as pilots and technicians in the same period of time, and showed the same degree of mechanical proficiency. Black units, on the other hand, required considerably more time in training than white units, sometimes simply because they were understrength and their performance was less effective. At the same time the Air Forces admitted that even after discounting the usual factors, such as time in service and job assignment, whites advanced further than blacks. No explanation was offered. Nevertheless, the commanding general of the Air Forces reported very little racial disorder or conflict overseas. There had been a considerable amount in the United States, however; many Air Forces commanders ascribed this to the unwillingness of northern Negroes to accept southern laws or social customs, the insistence of black officers on integrated officers' clubs, and the feeling among black fliers that command had been made an exclusive prerogative of white officers rather than a matter depending on demonstrated qualification.

In contrast to the others, the Army Air Forces revealed a marked change in sentiment over the post-World War I studies of black troops. No more were there references to congenital inferiority or inherent weaknesses, but everywhere a willingness to admit that Negroes had been held back by the white majority.

The commanding general of the Army Air Forces recommended Negroes be apportioned among the three major forces—the Army Ground Forces, the Army Service Forces, and the Army Air Forces—but that their numbers in no case exceed 10 percent of any command; that black servicemen be trained exactly as whites; (p. 141) and that Negroes be segregated in units not to exceed air group size. Unlike the others, the Army Air Forces wanted black units to have black commanders as far as possible and recommended that the degree of segregation in messing, recreation, and social activities conform to the custom of the surrounding community. It wanted Negroes assigned overseas in the same proportion as whites, and in the United States, to the extent practicable, only to those areas considered favorable to their welfare. Finally, the Air Forces wanted Negroes to be neither favored nor discriminated against in disciplinary matters.[5-47]

Among the responses of the subordinate commands were some exceptions to the generalizations found in those of the major forces. One commander, for example, while concluding that segregation was desirable, admitted that it was one of the basic causes of the Army's racial troubles and would have to be dealt with "one way or the other."[5-48] Another recommended dispersing black troops, one or two in a squad, throughout all-white combat units.[5-49] Still another pointed out that the performance of black officers and noncommissioned officers in terms of resourcefulness, aggressiveness, sense of responsibility, and ability to make decisions was comparable to the performance of white soldiers when conditions of service were nearly equal. But the Army failed to understand this truth, the commander of the 1st Service Command charged, and its separate and unequal treatment discriminated in a way that would affect the efficiency of any man. The performance of black troops, he concluded, depended on how severely the community near a post differentiated between the black and white soldier and how well the Negro's commander demonstrated the fairness essential to authority. The Army admitted that black units needed superior leadership, but, he added, it misunderstood what this leadership entailed. All too often commanders of black units acted under the belief that their men were different and needed special treatment, thus clearly suggesting racial inferiority. The Army, he concluded, should learn from its wartime experience the deleterious effect of segregation on motivation and ultimately on performance.[5-50]

Truman Gibson took much the same approach when he summed up for McCloy his estimate of the situation facing the Army. After rehearsing the recent history of segregation in the armed forces, he suggested that it was not enough to compare the performance of black and white troops; the reports of black performance should be examined to determine whether the performance would be improved or impaired by changing the policy of segregation. Any major Army review, he urged, should avoid the failure of the old studies on race that (p. 142) based differences in performance on racial characteristics and should question instead the efficiency of segregation. For him, segregation was the heart of the matter, and he counseled that "future policy should be predicated on an assumption that civilian attitudes will not remain static. The basic policy of the Army should, therefore, not itself be static and restrictive, but should be so framed as to make further progress possible on a flexible basis."[5-51]

Before passing Gibson's suggestions to the Assistant Secretary of War, McCloy's executive assistant, Lt. Col. Davidson Sommers, added some ideas of his own. Since it was "pretty well recognized," he wrote, that the Army had not found the answer to the efficient use of black manpower, a first-class officer or group of officers of high rank, supplemented perhaps with a racially mixed group of civilians, should be designated to prepare a new racial policy. But, he warned, their work would be ineffectual without specific directions from Army leaders. He wanted the Army to make "eventual nonsegregation" its goal. Complete integration, Sommers felt, was impossible to achieve at once. Classification test scores alone refuted the claim that "Negroes in general make as good soldiers as whites." But he thought there was no need "to resort to racial theories to explain the difference," for the lack of educational, occupational, and social opportunities was sufficient.[5-52]

Sommers had, in effect, adopted Gibson's gradualist approach to the problem, suggesting an inquiry to determine "the areas in which nonsegregation can be attempted first and the methods by which it can be introduced ... instead of merely generalizing, as in the past, on the disappointing and not very relevant experiences with large segregated units." He foresaw difficulties: a certain amount of social friction and perhaps a considerable amount of what he called "professional Negro agitation" because Negroes competing with whites would probably not achieve comparable ranks or positions immediately. But Sommers saw no cause for alarm. "We shall be on firm ground," he concluded, "and will be able to defend our actions by relying on the unassailable position that we are using men in accordance with their ability."

Competing with these calls for gradual desegregation was the Army's growing concern with securing some form of universal military training. Congress would discuss the issue during the summer and fall of 1945, and one of the questions almost certain to arise in the congressional hearings was the place contemplated for Negroes. Would the Army use Negroes in combat units? Would the Army train and use Negroes in units together with whites? Upon the answers to these questions hinged the votes of most, if not all, southern congressmen. Prudence dictated that the Army avoid any innovations that might jeopardize the chance for universal military training. In other words, went the prevalent view, what was good for the Army—and universal military training was in that category—had to come before all else.[5-53]

Even (p. 143) among officers troubled by the contradictory aspects of an issue clouded by morality, many felt impelled to give their prime allegiance to the Army as it was then constituted. The Army's impressive achievement during the war, they reasoned, argued for its continuation in conformance with current precepts, particularly in a world still full of hostilities. The stability of the Army came first; changes would have to be made slowly, without risking the menace of disruption. An attempt to mix the races in the Army seemed to most officers a dangerous move bordering on irresponsibility. Furthermore, the majority of Army officers, dedicated to the traditions of the service, saw the Army as a social as well as a military institution. It was a way of life that embraced families, wives and children. The old manners and practices were comfortable because they were well known and understood, had produced victory, and had represented a life that was somewhat isolated and insulated—particularly in the field—from the currents and pressures of national life. Why then should the old patterns be modified; why exchange comfort for possible chaos? Why should the Army admit large numbers of Negroes; what had Negroes contributed to winning World War II; what could they possibly contribute to the postwar Army?

Although opinion among Army officials on the future role of Negroes in the Army was diverse and frankly questioning in tone, opinion on the past performance of black units was not. Commanders tended to agree that with certain exceptions, particularly small service and combat support units, black units performed below the Army average during the war and considerably below the best white units. The commanders also generally agreed that black units should be made more efficient and usually recommended they be reduced in size and filled with better qualified men. Most civil rights spokesmen and their allies in the Army, on the other hand, viewed segregation as the underlying cause of poor performance. How, then, could the conflicting advice be channeled into construction of an acceptable postwar racial policy? The task was clearly beyond the powers of the War Department's Special Planning Division, and in September 1945 McCloy adopted the recommendation of Sommers and Gibson and urged the Secretary of War to turn over this crucial matter to a board of general officers. Out of this board's deliberations, influenced in great measure by opinions previously expressed, would emerge the long-awaited revision of the Army's policy for its black minority.

The Navy's Informal Inspection

In contrast to the elaborate investigation conducted by the Army, the Navy's search for a policy consisted mainly of an informal intradepartmental review and an inspection of its black units by a civilian representative of the Secretary of the Navy. In general this contrast may be explained by the difference in the services' postwar problems. The Army was planning for the enlistment of a large cross section of the population through some form of universal military training; the Navy was planning for a much smaller peacetime organization of technically trained volunteers. Moreover, the Army wanted to review the performance of its many (p. 144) black combat units, whereas the naval establishment, which had excluded most of its Negroes from combat, had little to gain from measuring their wartime performance.

The character and methods of the Secretary of the Navy had an important bearing on policy. Forrestal believed he had won the senior officers to his view of equal treatment and opportunity, and to be assured of success he wanted to convince lower commanders and the ranks as well. He wrote in July 1945: "We are making every effort to give more than lip service to the principles of democracy in the treatment of the Negro and we are trying to do it with the minimum of commotion.... We would rather await the practical demonstration of the success of our efforts.... There is still a long road to travel but I am confident we have made a start."[5-54]

Forrestal's wish for a racially democratic Navy did not noticeably conflict with the traditionalists' plan for a small, technically elite force, so while the Army launched a worldwide quest in anticipation of an orthodox policy review, the Navy started an informal investigation designed primarily to win support for the racial program conceived by the Secretary of the Navy.

The Navy's search began in the last months of the war when Secretary Forrestal approved the formation of an informal Committee on Negro Personnel. Although Lester Granger, the secretary's adviser on racial matters, had originally proposed the establishment of such a committee to "help frame sound and effective racial policies,"[5-55] the Chief of Naval Personnel, a preeminent representative of the Navy's professionals, saw an altogether different reason for the group. He endorsed the idea of a committee, he told a member of the secretary's staff, "not because there is anything wrong or backward about our policies," but because "we need greater cooperation from the technical Bureaus in order that those policies may succeed."[5-56] Forrestal did little to define the group's purpose when on 16 April 1945 he ordered Under Secretary Bard to organize a committee "to assure uniform policies" and see that all subdivisions of the Navy were familiar with each other's successful and unsuccessful racial practices.[5-57]

By pressing for the uniform treatment of Negroes, Forrestal doubtless hoped to pull backward branches into line with more liberal ones so that the progressive reforms of the past year would be accepted throughout the Navy. But if Forrestal's ultimate goal was plain, his failure to give clear-cut directions to his informal committee was characteristic of his handling of racial policy. He carefully followed the recommendations of the Chief of Naval Personnel, who wanted the committee to be a military group, despite having earlier expressed his intention of inviting Granger to chair the committee. As announced on 25 April, the committee was headed by a senior official of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Capt. (p. 145) Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, with another of the bureau's officers serving as committee recorder.[5-58] Restricting the scope of the inquiry, Forrestal ordered that "whenever practical" the committee should assign each of its members to investigate the racial practices in his own organization.

Nevertheless when the committee got down to work it quickly went beyond the limited concept of its mission as advanced by the Chief of Naval Personnel. Not only did it study statistics gathered from all sections of the department and review the experiences of various commanders of black units, it also studied Granger's immediate and long-range recommendations for the department, an extension of his earlier wartime work for Forrestal. Specifically, Granger had called for the formulation of a definite integration policy and for a strenuous public relations campaign directed toward the black community. He had also called for the enlistment and commissioning of a significant number of Negroes in the Regular Navy, and he wanted commanders indoctrinated in their racial responsibilities. Casting further afield, Granger had warned that discriminatory policies and practices in shipyards and other establishments must be eliminated, and employment opportunities for black civilians in the department broadened.[5-59]

The committee deliberated on all these points, and, after meeting several times, announced in May 1945 its findings and recommendations. It found that the Navy's current policies were sound and when properly executed produced good results. At the same time it saw a need for periodic reviews to insure uniform application of policy and better public relations. Such findings could be expected from a body headed by a senior official of the personnel bureau, but the committee then came up with the unexpected—a series of recommendations for sweeping change. Revealing the influence of the Special Programs Unit, the committee asked that Negroes be declared available for assignment to all types of ships and shore stations in all classifications, with selections made solely on merit. Since wholesale reassignments were impractical, the committee recommended well-planned, gradual assimilation—it avoided the word integration—as the best policy for ending the concentration of Negroes at shore activities. It also attacked the Steward's Branch as the conspicuous symbol of the Negroes' second-class status and called for the assignment of white stewards and allowing qualified stewards to transfer to general service.

The committee wanted the Judge Advocate General to assign legal advisers to all major trials, especially those involving minorities, to prevent errors in courts-martial that might be construed as discrimination. It further recommended that Negroes be represented in the secretary's public relations office; that news items concerning Negroes be more widely disseminated through bureau bulletins; and, finally, that all bureaus as well as the Coast Guard and Marine Corps be encouraged to enroll commanders in special indoctrination programs (p. 146) before they were assigned to units with substantial numbers of Negroes.[5-60]

Granger Interviewing Sailors

Granger Interviewing Sailors
on inspection tour in the Pacific.

The committee's recommendations, submitted to Under Secretary Bard on 22 May 1945, were far more than an attempt to unify the racial practices of the various subdivisions of the Navy Department. For the first time, senior representatives of the department's often independent branches accepted the contention of the Special Programs Unit that segregation was militarily inefficient and a gradual but complete integration of the Navy's general service was the solution to racial problems.

Yet as a formula for equal treatment and opportunity in the Navy, the committee's recommendations had serious omissions. Besides overlooking the dearth of black officers and the Marine Corps' continued strict segregation, the committee had ignored Granger's key proposal that Negroes be guaranteed a place in the Regular Navy. Almost without exception, Negroes in the Navy's general service were reservists, products of wartime volunteer enlistment or the draft. All but a few of the black regulars were stewards. Without assurance that many of these general service reservists would be converted to regulars or that provision (p. 147) would be made for enlistment of black regulars, the committee's integration recommendations lacked substance. Secretary Forrestal must have been aware of these omissions, but he ignored them. Perhaps the problem of the Negro in the postwar Navy seemed remote during this last, climactic summer of the war.

Granger With Crewmen of a Naval Yard Craft

Granger With Crewmen of a Naval Yard Craft

To document the status of the Negro in the Navy, Forrestal turned again to Lester Granger. Granger had acted more than once as the secretary's eyes and ears on racial matters, and the association between the two men had ripened from mutual respect to close rapport.[5-61] During August 1945 Granger visited some twenty continental installations for Forrestal, including large depots and naval stations on the west coast, the Great Lakes Training Center, and bases and air stations in the south. Shortly after V-J day Granger launched a more ambitious tour of inspection that found him traveling among the 45,000 Negroes assigned to the Pacific area.

Unlike the Army staff, whose worldwide quest for information stressed black performance in the familiar lessons-learned formula and only incidentally treated those factors that affected performance, Granger, a civilian, never really tried (p. 148) to assess performance. He was, however, a race relations expert, and he tried constantly to discover how the treatment accorded Negroes in the Navy affected their performance and to pass on his findings to local commanders. He later explained his technique. First, he called on the commanding officer for facts and opinions on the performance and morale of the black servicemen. Then he proceeded through the command, unaccompanied, interviewing Negroes individually as well as in small and large groups. Finally, he returned to the commanding officer to pass along grievances reported by the men and his own observations on the conditions under which they served.[5-62]

Granger always related the performance of enlisted men to their morale. He pointed out to the commanders that poor morale was at the bottom of the Port Chicago mass mutiny and the Guam riot, and his report to the secretary confirmed the experiences of the Special Programs Unit: black performance was deeply affected by the extent to which Negroes felt victimized by racial discrimination or handicapped by segregation, especially in housing, messing, and military and civilian recreational facilities. Although no official policy on segregated living quarters existed, Granger found such segregation widely practiced at naval bases in the United States. Separate housing meant in most cases separate work crews, thereby encouraging voluntary segregation in mess halls. In some cases the Navy's separate housing was carried over into nearby civilian communities where no segregation existed before. In others shore patrols forced segregation on civilian places of entertainment, even when state laws forbade it. On southern bases, especially, many commanders willingly abandoned the Navy's ban against discrimination in favor of the racial practices of local communities. There enforced segregation was widespread, often made explicit with "colored" and "white" signs.

Yet Granger found encouraging exceptions which he passed along to local commanders elsewhere. At Camp Perry, Virginia, for example, there was a minimum of segregation, and the commanding officer had intervened to see that Virginia's segregated bus laws did not apply to Navy buses operating between the camp and Norfolk. This situation was unusual for the Navy although integrated busing had been standard practice in the Army since mid-1944. He found Camp Perry "a pleasant contrast" to other southern installations, and from his experiences there he concluded that the attitude of the commanding officer set the pace. "There is practically no limit," Granger said, "to the progressive changes in racial attitudes and relationships which can be made when sufficiently enlightened and intelligent officer leadership is in command." The development of hard and fast rules, he concluded, was unnecessary, but the Bureau of Naval Personnel must constantly see to it that commanders resisted the "influence of local conventions."

At Pearl Harbor Granger visited three of the more than two hundred auxiliary ships manned by mixed crews. On two the conditions were excellent. The commanding (p. 149) officer in each case had taken special pains to avoid racial differentiation in ratings, assignments, quarters, and messes; efficiency was superior, morale was high, and racial conflict was absent. On the third ship Negroes were separated; they were specifically assigned to a special bunk section in the general crew compartment and to one end of the chow table. Here there was dissatisfaction among Negroes and friction with whites.

At the naval air bases in Hawaii performance and morale were good because Negroes served in a variety of ratings that corresponded to their training and ability. The air station in Oahu, for example, had black radar operators, signalmen, yeomen, machinist mates, and others working amiably with whites; the only sign of racial separation visible was the existence of certain barracks, no different from the others, set aside for Negroes.

Morale was lowest in black base companies and construction battalions. In several instances able commanding officers had availed themselves of competent black leaders to improve race relations, but in most units the racial situation was generally poor. Granger regarded the organization of the units as "badly conceived from the racial standpoint." Since base companies were composed almost entirely of nonrated men, spaces for black petty officers were lacking. In such units the scaffold of subordinate leadership necessary to support and uphold the authority of the officers was absent, as were opportunities for individual advancement. Some units had been provisionally re-formed into logistic support companies, and newly authorized ratings were quickly filled. This partial remedy had corrected some deficiencies, but left unchanged a number of the black base companies in the Pacific area. Although construction battalions had workers of both races, Granger reported them to be essentially segregated because whites were assigned to headquarters or to supervisory posts. Some officers had carried this arbitrary segregation into off-duty areas, one commander contending that strict segregation was the civilian pattern and that everyone was accustomed to it.

The Marine Corps lagged far behind the rest of the naval establishment, and there was little pretense of conforming with the Navy's racial policy. Black marines remained rigidly segregated and none of the few black officer candidates, all apparently well qualified, had been commissioned. Furthermore, some black marines who wanted to enlist as regulars were waiting word whether they could be included in the postwar Marine Corps. Approximately 85 percent of the black marines in the Pacific area were in depot and ammunition companies and steward groups. In many cases their assignments failed to match their qualifications and previous training. Quite a few specialists complained of having been denied privileges ordinarily accorded white men of similar status—for example, opportunities to attend schools for first sergeants, musicians, and radar operators. Black technicians were frequently sent to segregated and hastily constructed schools or detached to Army installations for schooling rather than sent to Marine Corps schools. Conversely, some white enlisted men, assigned to black units for protracted periods as instructors, were often accorded the unusual privilege of living in officers' quarters and eating in the officers' mess in order to preserve racial segregation.

Most (p. 150) black servicemen, Granger found, resented the white fleet shore patrols in the Pacific area which they considered biased in handling disciplinary cases and reporting offenders. The commanding officer of the shore patrol in Honolulu defended the practice because he believed the use of Negroes in this duty would be highly dangerous. Granger disagreed, pointing to the successful employment of black shore patrols in such fleet liberty cities as San Diego and Miami. He singled out the situation in Guam, which was patrolled by an all-white Marine Corps guard regarded by black servicemen as racist in attitude. Frequently, racial clashes occurred, principally over the attentions of native women, but it was the concentration of Negroes in the naval barracks at Guam, Granger concluded, along with the lack of black shore patrols, that intensified racial isolation, induced a suspicion of racial policies, and aggravated resentment.

At every naval installation Granger heard vigorous complaints over the contrast between black and white ratings and promotions. Discrepancies could be explained partly by the fact that, since the general service had been opened to Negroes fairly late in the war, many white men had more than two years seniority over any black. But Granger found evidence that whites were transferred into units to receive promotions and ratings due eligible black members. In many cases, he found "indisputable racial discrimination" by commanding officers, with the result that training was wasted, trained men were prevented from acquiring essential experience and its rewards, and resentment smoldered.

Evidence of overt prejudice aside, Granger stressed again and again that the primary cause of the Navy's racial problems was segregation. Segregation was "impractical and inefficient," he pointed out, because racial isolation bred suspicion, which in turn inflamed resentment, and finally provoked insubordination. The best way to integrate Negroes, Granger felt, was to take the most natural course, that is, eliminate all special provisions, conditions, or cautions regarding their employment. "There should be no exceptional approach to problems involving Negroes," he counseled, "for the racial factor in naval service will disappear only when problems involving Negroes are accepted as part of the Navy's general program for insuring efficient performance and first-class discipline."

Despite his earlier insistence on a fair percentage of Negroes in the postwar Regular Navy, Granger conceded that the number and proportion would probably decrease during peacetime. It was hardly likely, he added, that black enlistment would exceed 5 percent of the total strength, a manageable proportion. He even saw some advantages in smaller numbers, since, as the educational standards for all enlistees rose, the integration of relatively few but better qualified Negroes would "undoubtedly make for greater racial harmony and improved naval performance."

Despite the breadth and acuity of his observations, Granger suggested remarkedly few changes. Impressed by the progress made in the treatment of Negroes during the war, he apparently expected it to continue uninterrupted. Although his investigations uncovered basic problems that would continue to trouble (p. 151) the Navy, he did not recognize them as such. For his part, Forrestal sent Granger's voluminous reports with their few recommendations to his military staff and thanked the Urban League official for his contribution.[5-63]

Although different in approach and point of view, Granger's observations neatly complemented the findings and recommendations of the Committee on Negro Personnel. Both reinforced the secretary's postwar policy aims and both supported his gradualist approach to racial reform. Granger cited segregation, in particular the concentration of masses of black sailors, as the principal cause of racial unrest and poor morale among Negroes. The committee urged the gradual integration of the general service in the name of military efficiency. Granger and the committee also shared certain blind spots. Both were encouraged by the progress toward full-scale integration that occurred during the war, but this improvement was nominal at best, a token bow to changing conditions. Their assumption that integration would spread to all branches of the Navy neglected the widespread and deeply entrenched opposition to integration that would yield only to a strategy imposed by the Navy's civilian and military leaders. Finally, the hope that integration would spread ignored the fact that after the war few Negroes except stewards would be able to meet the enlistment requirements for the Regular Navy. In short, the postwar Navy, so far as Negroes were concerned, was likely to resemble the prewar Navy.

The search for a postwar racial policy led the Army and Navy down some of the same paths. The Army manpower planners decided that the best way to avoid the inefficient black divisions was to organize Negroes into smaller, and therefore, in their view, more efficient segregated units in all the arms and services. At the same time Secretary Forrestal's advisers decided that the best way to avoid the concentration of Negroes who could not be readily assimilated in the general service was to integrate the small remnant of black specialists and leave the majority of black sailors in the separate Steward's Branch. In both instances the experiences of World War II had successfully demonstrated to the traditionalists that large-scale segregated units were unacceptable, but neither service was yet ready to accept large-scale integration as an alternative.

CHAPTER 6 (p. 152)

New Directions

All the services developed new racial policies in the immediate postwar period. Because these policies were responses to racial stresses peculiar to each service and were influenced by the varied experiences of each, they were, predictably, disparate in both substance and approach; because they were also reactions to a common set of pressures on the services they proved to be, perhaps not so predictably, quite similar in practical consequences. One pressure felt by all the services was the recently acquired knowledge that the nation's military manpower was not only variable but also limited in quantity. Military efficiency demanded, therefore, that the services not only make the most effective use of available manpower, but also improve its quality. Since Negroes, who made up approximately 10 percent of the population, formed a substantial part of the nation's manpower, they could no longer be considered primarily a source of unskilled labor. They too must be employed appropriately, and to this end a higher proportion of Negroes in the services must be qualified for specialized jobs.

Continuing demands by civil rights groups added to the pressure on the services to employ Negroes according to their abilities. Arguing that Negroes had the right to enjoy the privileges and share the responsibilities of citizenship, civil rights spokesmen appeared determined to test the constitutionality of the services' wartime policies in the courts. Their demands placed the Truman administration on the defensive and served warning on the armed forces that never again could they look to the exclusion of black Americans as a long-term solution to their racial problems.

In addition to such pressures, the services had to reckon with a more immediate problem. Postwar black reenlistment, particularly among service men stationed overseas, was climbing far beyond expectation. As the armed forces demobilized in late 1945 and early 1946, the percentage of Negroes in the Army rose above its wartime high of 9.68 percent of the enlisted strength and was expected to reach 15 percent and more by 1947. Aside from the Marine Corps, which experienced a rapid drop in black enlistment, the Navy also expected a rise in the percentage of Negroes, at least in the near future. The increase occurred in part because Negroes, who had less combat time than whites and therefore fewer eligibility points for discharge, were being separated from service later and more slowly. The rise reflected as well the Negro's expectation that the national labor market would deteriorate in the wake of the war. Although greater opportunities for employment had developed for black Americans, civilians already filled the posts and many young Negroes preferred the job security of a military career. But there was another, more poignant reason why many (p. 153) Negroes elected to remain in uniform: they were afraid to reenter what seemed a hostile society and preferred life in the armed forces, imperfect as that might be. The effect of this increase on the services, particularly the largest service, the Army, was sharp and direct. Since many Negroes were poorly educated, they were slow to learn the use of sophisticated military equipment, and since the best educated and qualified men, black and white, tended to leave, the services faced the prospect of having a large proportion of their enlisted strength black and unskilled.

The Gillem Board Report

Clearly, a new policy was necessary, and soon after the Japanese surrender Assistant Secretary McCloy sent to the recently appointed Secretary of War the accumulated pile of papers on the subject of how best to employ Negroes in the postwar Army. Along with the answers to the questionnaires sent to major commanders and a collection of interoffice memos went McCloy's reminder that the matter ought to be dealt with soon. McCloy wanted to form a committee of senior officers to secure "an objective professional view" to be used as a base for attacking the whole race problem. But while he considered it important to put this professional view on record, he still expected it to be subject to civilian review.[6-1]

Robert P. Patterson became Secretary of War on 27 September 1945, after serving with Henry Stimson for five years, first as assistant and later as under secretary. Intimately concerned with racial matters in the early years of the war, Patterson later became involved in war procurement, a specialty far removed from the complex and controversial racial situation that faced the Army. Now as secretary he once again assumed an active role in the Army's black manpower problems and quickly responded to McCloy's request for a policy review.[6-2] In accordance with Patterson's oral instructions, General Marshall appointed a board, under the chairmanship of Lt. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, Jr., which met on 1 October 1945. Three days later a formal directive signed by the Deputy Chief of Staff and approved by the Secretary of War ordered the board to "prepare a policy for the use of the authorized Negro manpower potential during the postwar period including the complete development of the means required to derive the maximum efficiency from the full authorized manpower of the nation in the event of a national emergency."[6-3] On this group, to be known as the Gillem Board, would fall the responsibility for formulating a policy, preparing a directive, and planning the use of Negroes in the postwar Army.

General Gillem

General Gillem

None of the board members was particularly prepared for the new assignment. General Gillem, a Tennessean, had come up through the ranks to command the XIII Corps in Europe during World War II. Although he had written one (p. 154) of the 1925 War College studies on the use of black troops and had many black units in his corps, Gillem probably owed his appointment to the fact that he was a three-star general, available at the moment, and had recently been selected by the Chief of Staff to direct a Special Planning Division study on the use of black troops that had been superseded by the new board.[6-4] Burdened with the voluminous papers collected by McCloy, Gillem headed a board composed of Maj. Gen. Lewis A. Pick, a Virginian who had built the Ledo Road in the China-Burma-India theater; Brig. Gen. Winslow C. Morse of Michigan, who had served in a variety of assignments in the Army Air Forces culminating in wartime duties in China; and Brig. Gen. Aln D. Warnock, the recorder without vote, a Texan who began his career in the Arizona National Guard and had served in Iceland during World War II.[6-5] These men had broad and diverse experience and gave the board a certain geographical balance. Curiously enough, none was a graduate of West Point.[6-6]

Although new to the subject, the board members worked quickly. Less than a month after their first session, Gillem informed the Chief of Staff that they had already reached certain conclusions. They recognized the need to build on the close relationships developed between the races during the war by introducing progressive measures that could be put into operation promptly and would provide for the assignment of black troops on the basis of individual merit and ability alone. After studying and comparing the racial practices of the other services, the board decided that the Navy's partial integration had stimulated competition which improved black performance without causing racial friction. By contrast, strict segregation in the Marine Corps required longer training periods and closer supervision for black marines. In his memorandum Gillem refrained from drawing the logical conclusion and simply went on to note that the Army had, for example, integrated its black and white patients in hospitals because of the greater expense, inefficiency, and general impracticality of duplicating complex medical (p. 155) equipment and installations.[6-7] By inference the same disadvantages applied to maintaining separate training facilities, operational units, and the rest of the apparatus of the shrinking Army establishment. At one point in his progress report, Gillem seemed close to recommending integration, at least to the extent already achieved in the Navy. But stated explicitly such a recommendation would have been a radical step, out of keeping with the climate of opinion in the country and in the Army itself.

On 17 November 1945 the Gillem Board finished the study and sent its report to the Chief of Staff.[6-8] In six weeks the board had questioned more than sixty witnesses, consulted a mass of documentary material, and drawn up conclusions and recommendations on the use of black troops. The board declared that its recommendations were based on two complementary principles: black Americans had a constitutional right to fight, and the Army had an obligation to make the most effective use of every soldier. But the board also took into account reports of the Army's wartime experience with black units. It referred constantly to this experience, citing the satisfactory performance of the black service units and some of the smaller black combat units, in particular the artillery and tank battalions. It also described the black infantry platoons integrated into white companies in Europe as "eminently successful." At the same time large black combat units had not been satisfactory, most often because their junior officers and noncommissioned officers lacked the ability to lead. The difficulties the Army encountered in properly placing its black troops during the war, the board decided, stemmed to some extent from inadequate staff work and improper planning. Poor staff work allowed a disproportionate number of Negroes with low test scores to be allocated to combat elements. Lack of early planning, constant reorganization and regrouping of black units, and continuous shifting of individuals from one type of training to another had confused and bewildered black troops, who sometimes doubted that the Army intended to commit them to combat at all.

It was necessary, the board declared, to avoid repetition of this experience. Advance planning was needed to develop a broader base of trained men among black troops to provide cadres and leaders to meet national emergencies more efficiently. The Army had to realize and take advantage of the advances made by Negroes in education, industry, and government service. The wide range of skills attained by Negroes had enhanced their military value and made possible a broader selectivity with consequent benefit to military efficiency. Thus, the Army had to adopt a racial policy that provided for the progressive and flexible use of black manpower "within proportions corresponding to those in the civilian population." This policy, it added, must "be implemented promptly (p. 156) ... must be objective by nature ... must eliminate, at the earliest practicable moment, any special consideration based on race ... and should point towards the immediate objective of an evaluation of the Negro on the basis of individual merit and ability."

The board made eighteen specific recommendations, of which the following were the most important.

"That combat and service units be organized and activated from the Negro manpower available in the postwar Army to meet the requirements of training and expansion and in addition qualified individuals be utilized in appropriate special and overhead units." The use of qualified Negroes in overhead units was the first break with the traditional policy of segregation, for though black enlisted men would continue to eat and sleep in segregated messes and barracks, they would work alongside white soldiers and perform the same kind of duty in the same unit.

"The proportion of Negro to white manpower as exists in the civil population be the accepted ratio for creating a troop basis in the postwar Army."[6-9]

"That Negro units organized or activated for the postwar Army conform in general to other units of the postwar Army but the maximum strength of type [sic] units should not exceed that of an infantry regiment or comparable organization." Here the board wanted the Army to avoid the division-size units of World War II but retain separate black units which would be diversified enough to broaden the professional base of Negroes in the Regular Army by offering them a larger selection of military occupations.

"That in the event of universal training in peacetime additional officer supervision is supplied to units which have a greater than normal percentage of personnel falling into A.G.C.T. classifications IV and V." Such a policy had existed in World War II, but was never carried out.

"That a staff group of selected officers whose background has included commanding troops be formed within the G-1 Division of the staffs of the War Department and each major command of the Army to assist in the planning, promulgation, implementation and revision of policies affecting all racial minorities." This was the administrative machinery the board wanted to facilitate the prompt and efficient execution of the Army's postwar racial policies.

"That reenlistment be denied to regular Army soldiers who meet only the minimum standards." This provision was in line with the concept that the peacetime Army was a cadre to be expanded in time of emergency. As long as the Army accepted all reenlistments regardless of aptitude and halted black enlistments when black strength exceeded 10 percent, it would deny enlistment to many qualified Negroes. It would also burden the Army with low-scoring men who would never rise above the rank of private and whose usefulness in a peacetime (p. 157) cadre, which had the function of training for wartime expansion, would be extremely limited.

"That surveys of manpower requirements conducted by the War Department include recommendations covering the positions in each installation of the Army which could be filled by Negro military personnel." This suggestion complemented the proposal to use Negroes in overhead positions on an individual basis. By opening more positions to Negroes, the Army would foster leadership, maintain morale, and encourage a competitive spirit among the better qualified. By forcing competition with whites "on an individual basis of merit," the Army would become more attractive as a career to superior Negroes, who would provide many needed specialists as a "nucleus for rapid expansion of Army units in time of emergency."

"That groupings of Negro units with white units in composite organizations be continued in the postwar Army as a policy." Since World War II demonstrated that black units performed satisfactorily when grouped or operated with white combat units, the inclusion of a black service company in a white regiment or a heavy weapons company in an infantry battalion could perhaps be accomplished "without encountering insurmountable difficulties." Such groupings would build up a professional relationship between blacks and whites, but, the board warned, experimentation must not risk "the disruption of civilian racial relationships."

"That there be accepted into the Regular Army an unspecified number of qualified Negro officers ... that all officers, regardless of race, be required to meet the same standard for appointment ... be accorded equal rights and opportunities for advancement and professional improvement; and be required to meet the same standard for appointment, promotion and retention in all components of the Army." The board set no limit on the number of black officers in the Army, nor did it suggest that black officers be restricted to service in black units.

Its report rendered, the board remained in existence ready to make revisions "as may be warranted" by the comments of the many individuals and agencies that were to review the policy in conformance with a directive of the Secretary of War.[6-10]

No two individuals were more intimately concerned with the course of events that led to the Gillem Board Report than John J. McCloy and Truman Gibson, and although both were about to leave government service, each gave the new Secretary of War his opinion of the report.[6-11] McCloy called the report a "fine achievement" and a "great advance over previous studies." It was most important, he said, that the board had stated the problem in terms of manpower efficiency. At the same time both men recognized ambiguities in the board's (p. 158) recommendations, and their criticisms were strong, precise, and, considering the conflicts that developed in the Army over these issues, remarkedly acute. Both agreed the report needed a clear statement on the basic issue of segregation, and they wanted the board to eliminate the quota. Gibson pointed out that the board proposed as a long-range objective the utilization of all persons on the basis of individual ability alone. "This means, of course," he announced with more confidence than was warranted, "a completely integrated Army." In the interest of eventually achieving an integrated Army he was willing to settle for less than immediate and total integration, but nevertheless he attacked the board for what he called the vagueness of its recommendations. Progressive and planned integration, he told Secretary Patterson, demanded a clear and explicit policy stating that segregation was outmoded and integration inevitable, and the Army should move firmly and steadily from one to the other.

On some fundamental issues McCloy thought the board did "not speak with the complete clarity necessary," but he considered the ambiguity unintentional. Experience showed, he reminded the secretary, "that we cannot get enforcement of policies that permit of any possibility of misconstruction." Directness, he said, was required in place of equivocation based on delicacy. If the Gillem Board intended black officers to command white officers and men, it should have said so flatly. If it meant the Army should try unsegregated and mixed units, it should have said so. Its report, McCloy concluded, should have put these matters beyond doubt. He was equally forthright in his rejection of the quota, which he found impractical because it deprived the Army of many qualified Negroes who would be unable to enlist when the quota was full. Even if the quota was meant as a floor rather than a ceiling, McCloy thought it objectionable. "I do not see any place," he wrote, "for a quota in a policy that looks to utilize Negroes on the basis of ability."

If the Gillem Board revealed the Army's willingness to compromise in treating a pressing efficiency problem, detailed comments by interested staff agencies revealed how military traditionalists hoped to avoid a pressing social problem. For just as McCloy and Gibson criticized the board for failing to spell out concrete procedures toward integration, other staff experts generally approved the board's report precisely because its ambiguities committed them to very little. Their specific criticisms, some betraying the biases of the times, formed the basis of the standard traditionalist defense of the racial status quo for the next five years.

Comments from the staff's personnel organization set the tone of this criticism.[6-12] The Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel, G-1, Maj. Gen. Willard S. Paul, approved the board's recommendations, calling them a "logical solution to the problem of effective utilization of Negro manpower." Although he thought (p. 159) the report "sufficiently detailed to permit intelligent, effective planning," he passed along without comment the criticisms of his subordinates. He was opposed to the formation of a special staff group. "We must soon reach the point," he wrote, "where our general staff must be able to cope with such problems without the formation of ad hoc committees or groups."[6-13]

The Assistant Chief of Staff for Organization and Training, G-3, Maj. Gen. Idwal H. Edwards, was chiefly concerned with the timing of the new policy. In trying to employ black manpower on a broader professional scale, he warned, the Army must recognize the "ineptitude and limited capacity of the Negro soldier." He wanted various phases of the new policy timed "with due consideration for all factors such as public opinion, military requirements and the military situation." If the priority given public opinion in the sequence of these factors reflected Edwards's view of their importance, the list is somewhat curious. Edwards concurred in the recommendations, although he wanted the special staff group established in the personnel office rather than in his organization, and he rejected any arbitrary percentage of black officers. More black officers could be obtained through expansion of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, he suggested, but he rejected the board's call for special classification of all enlistees in reception and training centers, on grounds that the centers were not adequate for the task.[6-14]

The chief of the General Staff's Operations Division, Lt. Gen. John E. Hull, dismissed the Gillem report with several blunt statements: black enlisted men should be assigned to black units capable of operational use within white units at the rate of one black battalion per division; a single standard of professional proficiency should be followed for white and black officers; and "no Negro officer be given command of white troops."[6-15]

The deputy commander of the Army Air Forces, Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, agreed with the board that the Army should not be "a testing ground for problems in race relationships." Neither did he think the Air Forces should organize units for the sole purpose of "advancing the prestige of one race, especially when it is necessary to utilize personnel that do not have the proper qualifications in order to keep these units up to strength." Black combat units should be limited by the 10 percent quota and by the small number of Negroes qualified for tactical training. Most Negroes should be placed in Air Forces service units, where "their wartime record was the best," even though such placement would leave the Air Forces open to charges of discrimination. The idea of experimental groupings of black and white units in composite organizations might prove "impractical," Eaker wrote to the Chief of Staff, because an Air Forces group operated as an integral unit rather than as three or four separate squadrons; units often exchanged men and equipment, and common messes were used. Composite (p. 160) organizations were practical "only when it is not necessary for the units to intermingle continually in order to carry on efficiently." Why intermingling could not be synonymous with efficiency, he failed to explain. The inference was clear that segregation was not only normal but best.

Yet he advocated continuing integrated flying schools and agreed that Negroes should be stationed where community attitudes were favorable. He cited the difficulties involved in stationing. For more than two years the Army Air Forces had tried to find a suitable base for its only black tactical group. Even in northern cities with large black communities—Syracuse, New York, Columbus, Ohio, and Windsor Locks, Connecticut, among others—officials had vehemently protested against having the black group.

The War Department, Eaker concluded, "should never be ahead of popular opinion on this subject; otherwise it will put itself in a position of stimulating racial disorders rather than overcoming them." Along these lines, and harking back to the Freeman Field incident, he protested against regulations reaffirmed by the Gillem Board for the joint use of clubs, theaters, post exchanges, and the like at stations in localities where such use was contrary to civilian practices.[6-16]

The Army Ground Forces headquarters concurred generally with the Gillem Board's conclusions and recommendations but suggested the Army not act alone. The headquarters recommended a policy be formulated for the entire military establishment; only then should individual elements of the armed forces come forward with their own policies. The idea that Negroes should serve in numbers proportionate to their percentage of the population and bear their share of battle losses "may be desirable but is impracticable and should be abandoned in the interest of a logical solution."[6-17] Since the abilities of Negroes were limited, the report concluded, their duties should be restricted.

The commanding general of the Army Service Forces claimed the Gillem Board Report was advocating substantially the same policy his organization had followed during the war. The Army Service Forces had successfully used an even larger percentage of Negroes than the Gillem Board contemplated. Concurring generally with the board's recommendations, he cautioned that the War Department should not dictate the use of Negroes in the field; to do so would be a serious infringement of command prerogatives that left each commander free to select and assign his men. As for the experimental groupings of black and white units, the general believed that such mixtures were appropriate for combat units but not for the separate small units common to the Army Service Forces. Separate, homogeneous companies or battalions formed during the war worked well, and experience proved mixed units impractical below group and regimental echelons.

The (p. 161) Service Forces commander called integration infeasible "for the present and foreseeable future." It was unlawful in many areas, he pointed out, and not common practice elsewhere, and requiring soldiers to follow a different social pattern would damage morale and defeat the Army's effort to increase the opportunities and effectiveness of black soldiers. He did not try to justify his contention, but his meaning was clear. It would be a mistake for the Army to attempt to lead the nation in such reforms, especially while reorganization, unification, and universal military training were being considered.[6-18]

Reconvened in January 1946 to consider the comments on its original report, the Gillem Board deliberated for two more weeks, heard additional witnesses, and stood firm in its conclusions and recommendations.[6-19] The policy it proposed, the board emphasized, had one purpose, the attainment of maximum manpower efficiency in time of national emergency. To achieve this end the armed forces must make full use of Negroes now in service, but future use of black manpower had to be based on the experience gained in two major wars. The board considered the policy it was proposing flexible, offering opportunity for advancement to qualified individuals and at the same time making possible for the Army an economic use of national manpower as a whole.

To its original report the board added a statement at once the hope and despair of its critics and supporters.

The Initial Objectives: The utilization of the proportionate ratio of the manpower made available to the military establishment during the postwar period. The manpower potential to be organized and trained as indicated by pertinent recommendations.

The Ultimate Objective: The effective use of all manpower made available to the military establishment in the event of a major mobilization at some unknown date against an undetermined aggressor. The manpower to be utilized, in the event of another major war, in the Army without regard to antecedents or race.

When, and if such a contingency arises, the manpower of the nation should be utilized in the best interests of the national security.

The Board cannot, and does not, attempt to visualize at this time, intermediate objectives. Between the first and ultimate objective, timely phasing may be interjected and adjustments made in accordance with conditions which may obtain at this undetermined date.

The board based its ultimate objective on the fact that the black community had made important advances in education and job skills in the past generation, and it expected economic and educational conditions for Negroes to continue to improve. Since such improvement would make it possible to employ black manpower in a variety of ways, the board's recommendations could be only a guide for the future, a policy that must remain flexible.

Secretary Patterson

Secretary Patterson

To the specific objections raised by the reviewing agencies, the board replied that although black units eventually should be commanded by black officers "no need exists for the assignment of Negro commanders to units composed of white (p. 162) troops." It also agreed with those who felt it would be beneficial to correlate Army racial policies with those of the Navy. On other issues the board stood firm. It rejected the proposal that individual commanders be permitted to choose positions where Negroes could be employed in overhead installations on the grounds that this delegation of responsibility "hazards lack of uniformity and makes results doubtful." It refused to drop the quota, arguing it was needed for planning purposes. At the same time the board did admit that the 10 percent ratio, suitable for the moment, might be changed in the future in the interest of efficiency—though changed in which way it did not say.

The board rejected the proposition that the Army Service Forces and the Army Air Forces were unable to use small black units in white organizations and took a strong stand for elimination of the professional private, the career enlistee lacking the background or ability to advance beyond the lowest rank. Finally, the board rejected demands that the color line be reestablished in officers' messes and enlisted recreational facilities. "This large segment of the population contributed materially to the success attained by our military forces.... The Negro enjoyed the privileges of citizenship and, in turn, willingly paid the premium by accepting service. In many instances, this payment was settled through the medium of the supreme sacrifice."

The board's recommendations were well received, at least in the highest echelons of the War Department. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, now Chief of Staff,[6-20] quickly sent the proposed policy to the Secretary of War with a recommendation for approval "subject to such adjustment as experience shows is necessary."[6-21] On 28 February 1946 Secretary Patterson approved the new policy in a succinct restatement of the board's recommendations. The policy and the full Gillem Board Report were published as War Department Circular 124 on 27 April 1946. At the secretary's direction the circular was dispatched to the field "without delay."[6-22] On 4 March the report was released to the press.[6-23] The most exhaustive (p. 163) and intensive inquiry ever made by the Army into the employment of black manpower had survived the review and analysis process with its conclusions and recommendations intact.

Attitudes toward the new policy varied with interpretations of the board's statement of objectives. Secretary Patterson saw in the report "a significant development in the status of the Negro soldiers in the Army." The immediate effect of using Negroes in composite units and overhead assignments, he predicted, would be to change War Department policy on segregation.[6-24] But the success of the policy could not be guaranteed by a secretary of war, and some of his advisers were more guarded in their estimates. To Truman Gibson, once again in government service, but briefly this time, the report seemed a good beginning because it offered a new approach, one that had originated within the Army itself. Yet Gibson was wary of its chances for success: The board's recommendations, he told the Assistant Secretary of War, would make for a better Army "only if they are effectively carried out."[6-25] The newly appointed assistant secretary, Howard C. Petersen, was equally cautious. Explaining the meaning of the report to the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association, he warned that "a strong policy weakly enforced will be of little value to the Army."[6-26]

Marcus H. Ray, Gibson's successor as the secretary's adviser on racial affairs,[6-27] stressed the board's ultimate objective to employ manpower without regard to race and called its recommendations "a step in the direction of efficient manpower utilization." It was a necessary step, he added, because "any racial group which lives under the stigma of implied inferiority inherent in a system of enforced separation cannot give over-all top performance in peace or in war."[6-28]

On the whole, the black community was considerably less sanguine about the new policy. The Norfolk Journal and Guide called the report a step in the right direction, but reserved judgment until the Army carried out the recommendations.[6-29] To a distinguished black historian who was writing an account of the Negro in World War II, the Gillem Board Report reflected the Army's ambiguity on racial matters. "It is possible," L. D. Reddick of the New York Public Library wrote, "to interpret the published recommendations as pointing in opposite directions."[6-30] One NAACP official charged that it "tries to dilute Jim-Crow by presenting it on a smaller scale." After citing the tremendous advances made by Negroes and all the reasons for ending segregation, he accused the (p. 164) Gillem Board of refusing to take the last step.[6-31] Most black papers adopted the same attitude, characterizing the new policy as "the same old Army." The Pittsburgh Courier, for one, observed that the new policy meant that the Army command had undergone no real change of heart.[6-32] Other segments of the public were more forebearing. One veterans' organization commended the War Department for the work of the Gillem Board but called its analysis and recommendations incomplete. Citing evidence that Jim Crow, not the enemy, "defeated" black combat units, the chairman of the American Veterans Committee called for an immediate end to segregation.[6-33]

Clearly, opposition to segregation was not going to be overcome with palliatives and promises, yet Petersen could only affirm that the Gillem Board Report would mean significant change. He admitted segregation's tenacious hold on Army thinking and that black units would continue to exist for some time, but he promised movement toward desegregation. He also made the Army's usual distinction between segregation and discrimination. Though there were many instances of unfair treatment during the war, he noted, these were individual matters, inconsistent with Army policy, which "has consistently condemned discrimination." Discrimination, he concluded, must be blamed on "defects" of enforcement, which would always exist to some degree in any organization as large as the Army.[6-34]

Actually, Petersen's promised "movement" toward integration was likely to be a very slow process. So substantive a change in social practice, the Army had always argued, required the sustained support of the American public, and judging from War Department correspondence and press notices large segments of the public remained unaware of what the Army was trying to do about its "Negro problem." Most military journalists continued to ignore the issue; perhaps they considered the subject of the employment of black troops unimportant compared with the problems of demobilization, atomic weaponry, and service unification. For example, in listing the principal military issues before the United States in the postwar period, military analyst Hanson Baldwin did not mention the employment of Negroes in the service.[6-35]

Given the composition of the Gillem Board and the climate of opinion in the nation, the report was exemplary and fair, its conclusions progressive. If in the light of later developments the recommendations seem timid, even superficial, it should be remembered to its credit that the board at least made integration a long-range goal of the Army and made permanent the wartime guarantee of a substantial black representation.

Nevertheless the ambiguities in the Gillem Board's recommendations would be useful to those commanders at all levels of the Army who were devoted to the racial (p. 165) status quo. Gillem and his colleagues discussed black soldiers in terms of social problems rather than military efficiency. As a result, their recommendations treated the problem from the standpoint of how best Negroes could be employed within the traditional segregated framework even while they spoke of integration as an ultimate goal. They gave their blessing to the continued existence of segregated units and failed to inquire whether segregation might not be a factor in the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of black units and black soldiers. True, they sought to use qualified Negroes in specialist jobs as a solution to better employment of black manpower, but this effort could have little practical effect. Few were qualified—and determination of qualifications was often done by those with little sympathy for the Negro and even less for the educated Negro. Black serviceman holding critical specialties and those assigned to overhead installations would never amount to more than a handful of men whose integration during duty hours only would fall far short even of tokenism.

To point out as the board did that the policy it was recommending no longer required segregation was meaningless. Until the Army ordered integration, segregation, simply by virtue of inertia, would remain. As McCloy, along with Gibson and others, warned, without a strong, explicit statement of intent by the Army the changes in Army practice suggested by the Gillem Board would be insignificant. The very acceptance of the board's report by officials traditionally opposed to integration should have been fair warning that the report would be difficult to use as a base for a progressive racial policy; in fact it could be used to justify almost any course of action. From the start, the War Department encountered overwhelming difficulties in carrying out the board's recommendations, and five years later the ultimate objective was still out of reach.

Clearly, the majority of Army officers viewed segregated service as the acceptable norm. General Jacob L. Devers, then commanding general of Army Ground Forces, gave a clue to their view when he told his fellow officers in 1946 that "we are going to put colored battalions in white divisions. This is purely business—the social side will not be brought into it."[6-36] Here then was the dilemma: Was not the Army a social institution as well as a fighting organization? The solution to the Army's racial problems could not be achieved by ignoring the social implications. On both counts there was a reluctance among many professional soldiers to take in Negroes. They registered acute social discomfort at the large influx of black soldiers, and many who had devoted their lives to military service had very real misgivings over using Negroes in white combat units or forming new black combat units because they felt that black fighters in the air and on the ground had performed badly in the past. To entrust the fighting to Negroes who had failed to prove their competence in this highest mission of the Army seemed to them to threaten the institution itself.

Despite these shortcomings, the work of the Gillem Board was a progressive step in the history of Army race relations. It broke with the assumption implicit in earlier Army policy that the black soldier was inherently inferior by recommending that (p. 166) Negroes be assigned tasks as varied and skilled as those handled by white soldiers. It also made integration the Army's goal by declaring as official policy the ultimate employment of all manpower without regard to race.

Even the board's insistence on a racial quota, it could be argued, had its positive aspects, for in the end it was the presence of so many black soldiers in the Korean War that finally ended segregation. In the meantime, controversy over the quota, whether it represented a floor supporting minimum black participation or a ceiling limiting black enlistment, continued unabated, providing the civil rights groups with a focal point for their complaints. No matter how hard the Army tried to justify the quota, the quota increased the Army's vulnerability to charges of discrimination.

Integration of the General Service

The Navy's postwar revision of racial policy, like the Army's, was the inevitable result of its World War II experience. Inundated with unskilled and undereducated Negroes in the middle of the war, the Navy had assigned most of these men to segregated labor battalions and was surprised by the racial clashes that followed. As it began to understand the connection between large segregated units and racial tensions, the Navy also came to question the waste of the talented Negro in a system that denied him the job for which he was qualified. Perhaps more to the point, the Navy's size and mission made immediately necessary what the Army could postpone indefinitely. Unlike the Army, the Navy seriously modified its racial policy in the last year of the war, breaking up some of the large segregated units and integrating Negroes in the specialist and officer training schools, in the WAVES, and finally in the auxiliary fleet and the recruit training centers.

Yet partial integration was not enough. Lester Granger's surveys and the studies of the secretary's special committee had demonstrated that the Navy could resolve its racial problems only by providing equal treatment and opportunity. But the absurdity of trying to operate two equal navies, one black and one white, had been obvious during the war. Only total integration of the general service could serve justice and efficiency, a conclusion the civil rights advocates had long since reached. After years of leaving the Navy comparatively at peace, they now began to demand total integration.

Admiral Denfeld

Admiral Denfeld

There was no assurance, however, that a move to integration was imminent when Granger returned from his final inspection trip for Secretary Forrestal in October 1945. Both Granger and the secretary's Committee on Negro Personnel had endorsed the department's current practices, and Granger had been generally optimistic over the reforms instituted toward the end of the war. Admirals Nimitz and King both endorsed Granger's recommendations, although neither saw the need for further change.[6-37] For his part Secretary Forrestal seemed determined to maintain the momentum of reform. "What steps do we take," he (p. 167) asked the Chief of Naval Personnel, "to correct the various practices ... which are not in accordance with Navy standards?"[6-38]

In response the Bureau of Naval Personnel circulated the Granger reports throughout the Navy and ordered steps to correct practices identified by Granger as "not in accordance with Navy standards."[6-39] But it was soon apparent that the bureau would be selective in adopting Granger's suggestions. In November, for example, the Chief of Naval Personnel, Admiral Louis E. Denfeld, arguing that officers "could handle black personnel without any special indoctrination," urged the secretary to reject Granger's recommendation that an office be established in headquarters to deal exclusively with racial problems. At the same time some of the bureau's recruiting officials were informing Negroes that their reenlistment in the Regular Navy was to be limited to the Steward's Branch.[6-40] With the help of Admiral Nimitz, Chief of Naval Operations, Forrestal quickly put an end to this recruiting practice, but he paid no further attention to racial matters except to demand in mid-December a progress report on racial reforms in the Pacific area.[6-41] Nor did he seem disturbed when the Pacific commander reported a large number of all-black units, some with segregated recreational facilities, operating in the Pacific area as part of the permanent postwar naval organization.[6-42]

In the end the decision to integrate the general service came not from the secretary but from that bastion of military tradition, the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Despite the general reluctance of the bureau to liberalize the Navy's racial policy, there had been all along some manpower experts who wanted to increase the number of specialties open to black sailors. Capt. Hunter Wood, Jr., for example, suggested in January 1946 that the bureau make plans for an expansion in assignments for Negroes. Wood's proposal fell on the sympathetic ears (p. 168) of Admiral Denfeld, who considered the Granger recommendations practical for the postwar Navy. Denfeld, of course, was well aware that these recommendations had been endorsed by Admirals King and Nimitz as well as Forrestal, and he himself had gone on record as believing that Negroes in the peacetime Navy should lose none of the opportunities opened to them during the war.[6-43]

Denfeld had had considerable experience with the Navy's evolving racial policy in his wartime assignment as assistant chief of personnel where his principal concern had been the efficient distribution and assignment of men. He particularly objected to the fact that current regulations complicated what should have been the routine transfer of sailors. Simple control procedures for the segregation of Negroes in general service had been effective when Negroes were restricted to particular shore stations and duties, he told Admiral Nimitz on 4 January 1946, but now that Negroes were frequently being transferred from shore to sea and from ship to ship the restriction of Negroes to auxiliary ships was becoming extremely difficult to manage and was also "noticeably contrary to the non-differentiation policy enunciated by the Secretary of the Navy." The only way to execute that policy effectively and maintain efficiency, he concluded, was to integrate the general service completely. Denfeld pointed out that the admission of Negroes to the auxiliary fleet had caused little friction in the Navy and passed almost unnoticed by the press. Secretary Forrestal had promised to extend the use of Negroes throughout the entire fleet if the preliminary program proved practical, and the time had come to fulfill that promise. He would start with "the removal of restrictions governing the type of duty to which general service Negroes can be assigned," but would limit the number of Negroes on any ship or at any shore station to a percentage no greater than that of general service Negroes throughout the Navy.[6-44]

With the enlistment of the Chief of Naval Personnel in the cause, the move to an integrated general service was assured. On 27 February 1946 the Navy published Circular Letter 48-46: "Effective immediately all restrictions governing types of assignments for which Negro naval personnel are eligible are hereby lifted. Henceforth, they shall be eligible for all types of assignments in all ratings in all activities and all ships of naval service." The letter went on to specify that "in housing, messing, and other facilities, there would be no special accommodations for Negroes." It also directed a redistribution of personnel by administrative commands so that by 1 October 1946 no ship or naval activity would be more than 10 percent Negro. The single exception would be the Naval Academy, where a large contingent of black stewards would be left intact to serve the midshipmen's meals.

The publication of Circular Letter 48-46 was an important step in the Navy's racial history. In less than one generation, in fewer years actually than the average sailor's service life, the Navy had made a complete about-face. In a sense (p. 169) the new policy was a service reform rather than a social revolution; after a 23-year hiatus integration had once again become the Navy's standard racial policy. Since headlines are more often reserved for revolutions than reformations, the new policy attracted little attention. The metropolitan press gave minimum coverage to the event and never bothered to follow later developments. For the most part the black press treated the Navy's announcement with skepticism. On behalf of Secretary Forrestal, Lester Granger invited twenty-three leading black editors and publishers to inspect ships in the fleet as well as shore activities to see for themselves the changes being made. Not one accepted. As one veteran put it, the editors shrank from praising the Navy's policy change for fear of being proved hasty. They preferred to remain on safe ground, "givin' 'em hell."[6-45]

The editors had every reason to be wary: integration was seriously circumscribed in the new directive, which actually offered few guarantees of immediate change. Applying only to enlisted men in the shore establishment and on ships, the directive ignored the Navy's all-white officer corps and its nonwhite servants branch of stewards. Aimed at abolishing discrimination in the service, it failed to guarantee either through enlistment, assignment guidelines, or specific racial quotas a fair proportion of black sailors in the postwar Navy. Finally, the order failed to create administrative machinery to carry out the new policy. In a very real sense the new policy mirrored tradition. It was naval tradition to have black sailors in the integrated ranks and a separate Messman's Branch. The return to this tradition embodied in the order complemented Forrestal's philosophy of change as an outgrowth of self-realized reform. At the same time naval tradition did not include the concept of high-ranking black officers, white servants, and Negroes in specialized assignments. Here Forrestal's hope of self-reform did not materialize, and equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes in the Navy remained an elusive goal.

But Forrestal and his military subordinates made enough of a start to draw the fire of white segregationists. The secretary answered charges and demands in a straightforward manner. When, for example, a congressman complained that "white boys are being forced to sleep with these negroes," Forrestal explained that men were quartered and messed aboard ship according to their place in the ship's organization without regard to race. The Navy made no attempt to prescribe the nature or extent of their social relationships, which were beyond the scope of its authority. Although Forrestal expressed himself as understanding the strong feelings of some Americans on this matter, he made it clear that the Navy had finally decided segregation was the surest way to emphasize and perpetuate the gap between the races and had therefore adopted a policy of integration.[6-46]

What Forrestal said was true, but the translation of the Navy's postwar racial policy into the widespread practice of equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes (p. 170) was still before him and his officers. To achieve it they would have to fight the racism common in many segments of American society as well as bureaucratic inertia. If put into practice the new policy might promote the efficient use of naval manpower and give the Navy at least a brief respite from the criticism of civil rights advocates, but because of Forrestal's failure to give clear-cut direction—a characteristic of his approach to racial reform—the Navy might well find itself proudly trumpeting a new policy while continuing its old racial practices.

The Marine Corps

As part of the naval establishment, the Marine Corps fell under the strictures of Secretary Forrestal's announced policy of racial nondiscrimination.[6-47] At the same time the Marine Corps was administratively independent of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Naval Personnel, and Circular Letter 48-46, which desegregated the Navy's general service, did not apply to the corps. In the development of manpower policy the corps was responsible to the Navy, in organization it closely resembled the Army, but in size and tradition it was unique. Each of these factors contributed to the development of the corps' racial policy and helped explain its postwar racial practices.

Because of the similarities in organization and mission between the Army and the Marine Corps, the commandant leaned toward the Army's solution for racial problems. The Army staff had contended that racially separate service was not discriminatory so long as it was equal, and through its Gillem Board policy it accepted the responsibility of guaranteeing that Negroes would be represented in equitable numbers and their treatment and opportunity would be similar to that given whites. Since the majority of marines served in the ground units of the Fleet Marine Force, organized like the Army in regiments, battalions, and squadrons with tables of organization and equipment, the formation of racially separate units presented no great problem.

Although the Marine Corps was similar to the Army in organization, it was very different in size and tradition. With a postwar force of little more than 100,000 men, the corps was hardly able to guarantee its segregated Negroes equal treatment and opportunity in terms of specialized training and variety of assignment. Again in contrast to the Army and Navy with their long tradition of Negroes in service, the Marine Corps, with a few unauthorized exceptions, had been an exclusively white organization since 1798. This habit of racial exclusion was strengthened by those feelings of intimacy and fraternity natural to any small bureaucracy. In effect the marines formed a small club in which practically everybody knew everybody else and was reluctant to admit strangers.[6-48] Racial exclusion often warred with the corps' clear duty to provide the fair and equal service for all Americans authorized by the Secretary of the Navy. At one point the commandant, (p. 171) General Alexander Vandegrift, even had to remind his local commanders that black marines would in fact be included in the postwar corps.[6-49]

One other factor influenced the policy deliberations of the Marine Corps: its experiences with black marines during World War II. Overshadowing the praise commanders gave the black depot companies were reports of the trials and frustrations suffered by those who trained the large black combat units. Many Negroes trained long and hard for antiaircraft duty, yet a senior group commander found them ill-suited to the work because of "emotional instability and lack of appreciation of materiel." One battery commander cited the "mechanical ineptitude" of his men; another fell back on "racial characteristics of the Negro as a whole" to explain his unit's difficulty.[6-50] Embodying rash generalization and outright prejudice, the reports of these commanders circulated in Marine Corps headquarters, also revealed that a large group of black marines experienced enough problems in combat training to cast serious doubt on the reliability of the defense battalions. This doubt alone could explain the corps' decision to relegate the units to the backwaters of the war zone. Seeing only the immediate shortcomings of the large black combat units, most commanders ignored the underlying reasons for the failure. The controversial commander of the 51st Defense Battalion, Col. Curtis W. LeGette,[6-51] however, gave his explanation to the commandant in some detail. He reported that more than half the men in the 51st as it prepared for overseas deployment—most of them recent draftees—were in the two lowest categories, IV and V, for either general classification or mechanical aptitude. That some 212 of the noncommissioned officers of the units were also in categories IV and V was the result of the unit's effort to carry out the commandant's order to replace white noncommissioned officers as quickly as possible. The need to develop black noncommissioned officers was underscored by LeGette, who testified to a growing resentment among his black personnel at the assignment of new white noncoms. Symptomatic of the unit's basic problems in 1944 was what LeGette called an evolving "occupational neurosis" among white officers forced to serve for lengthy periods with black marines.[6-52]

General Thomas

General Thomas

The marines experienced far fewer racial problems than either the Army or Navy during the war, but the difficulties that occurred were nonetheless important in the development of postwar racial policy. The basic cause of race problems (p. 172) was the rigid concentration of often undertrained and undereducated men, who were subjected to racial slurs and insensitive treatment by some white officials and given little chance to serve in preferred military specialties or to advance in the labor or defense units or steward details to which they were invariably consigned. But this basic cause was ignored by Marine Corps planners when they discussed the postwar use of Negroes. They preferred to draw other lessons from the corps' wartime experience. The employment of black marines in small, self-contained units performing traditional laboring tasks was justified precisely because the average black draftee was less well-educated and experienced in the use of the modern equipment. Furthermore, the correctness of this procedure seemed to be demonstrated by the fact that the corps had been relatively free of the flare-ups that plagued the other services. Many officials would no doubt have preferred to eliminate race problems by eliminating Negroes from the corps altogether. Failing this, they were determined that regular black marines continue to serve in those assignments performed by black marines during the war: in service units, stewards billets, and a few antiaircraft artillery units, the postwar successors to defense battalions.[6-53]

The development of a postwar racial policy to carry out the Navy Department's nondiscrimination order in the Marine Corps fell to the Division of Plans and Policies and its director, Brig. Gen. Gerald C. Thomas. It was a complicated task, and General Thomas and his staff after some delay established a series of guidelines intended to steer a middle path between exclusion and integration that would be nondiscriminatory. In addition to serving in the Steward's Branch, which contained 10 percent of all blacks in the corps, Negroes would serve in segregated units in every branch of the corps, and their strength would total some 2,800 men. This quota would not be like that established in the Army, which was pegged to the number of black soldiers during the war and which ultimately was based on national population ratios. The Marine Corps ratio of blacks to whites would be closer to 1 in 30 and would merely represent the estimated number of billets that might be filled by Negroes in self-sustaining segregated units.

The directorate also established a table of distribution plan that for the first time provided for black regular marines in aviation units and several other Marine (p. 173) Corps activities. Aviation units alone accounted for 25 percent of the marines in the postwar corps, General Thomas contended, and must absorb their proportionate share of black strength. Further, the Navy's policy of nondiscrimination demanded that all types of assignments be opened to black marines. Segregation "best suits the needs of the Marine Corps," General Thomas concluded. Ignoring the possibility of black officers and women marines, he thought that the opening of all specialties and types of duty to the enlisted ranks would find the Marine Corps "paralleling Navy policy."[6-54] Clearly, the Division of Plans and Policies wanted the corps to adopt a formula roughly analogous to the Gillem Board's separate but equal system without that body's provisions for a fixed quota, black officers, or some integrated service.

But even this concession to nondiscrimination was never approved, for the Plans and Policies Division ran afoul of a basic fact of segregation: the postwar strength of many elements of the Marine Corps was too small to support separate racial units. The Director of Aviation, for example, argued that because of the size and nature of his operation, segregated service was impossible. A substantial number of his enlisted men also did double duty by serving in air stations where Negroes could not be segregated, he explained. Only completely separate aviation units, police and maintenance, and construction units would be available for Negroes, a state of affairs "which would be open to adverse criticism." He recommended instead that Negroes in aviation be used only as stewards.[6-55] He failed to explain how this solution would escape adverse criticism.

General Thomas rejected these proposals, repeating that Secretary Forrestal's nondiscrimination policy demanded that a separate but equal system be extended throughout the Marine Corps. He also borrowed one of the Gillem Board's arguments: Negroes must be trained in the postwar military establishment in every occupation to serve as a cadre for future general mobilizations.[6-56] Thomas did not mention the fact that although large branches such as Fleet Marine Force aviation could maintain separate but equal living facilities for its black marines, even they would have to provide partially integrated training and working conditions. And the smaller organizations in the corps would be forced to integrate fully if forced to accept black marines. In short, if the corps wanted segregation it must pay the price of continued discrimination against black marines in terms of numbers enlisted and occupations assigned.

The choice was left to Commandant Vandegrift. One solution to the "Negro question," General Thomas told him, was complete integration and the abolition of racial quotas, but Thomas did not press this solution. Instead, he reviewed for Vandegrift the racial policies of the other services, pointing out that these policies had more often been devised to "appease the Negro press and (p. 174) other 'interested' agencies than to satisfy their own needs." Until the matter was settled on a "higher level," Thomas concluded, the services were not required to go further than had been their custom, and until Vandegrift decided on segregation or integration, setting quotas for the different branches in the corps was inappropriate. Thomas himself recommended that segregated units be adopted and that a quota be devised only after each branch of the corps reported how many Negroes it could use in segregated units.[6-57] Vandegrift approved Thomas's recommendation for segregated black units, and the Marine Corps lost the chance, temporarily, to adopt a policy in line with either the Navy's limited and integrated system or the Army's separate but equal system.

General Thomas spent the summer collecting and reviewing the proposals of the corps' various components for the employment of black marines. On the basis of this review General Vandegrift approved a postwar policy for the employment of Negroes in the Marine Corps on 26 September 1946. The policy called for the enlistment of 2,264 Negroes, 264 as stewards, the rest to serve in separate units, chiefly in ground security forces of the Fleet Marine Force in Guam and Saipan and in Marine Corps activities of the naval shore establishment. No Negroes except stewards would serve in Marine aviation, Marine forces afloat, or, with the exception of service depots, in the Marine logistic establishment.[6-58]

The policy was in effect by January 1947. In the end the Marine Corps' white-only tradition had proved strong enough to resist the progressive impulses that were pushing the other services toward some relaxation of their segregation policies. Committed to limiting Negroes to a token representation and employing black marines in rigidly self-contained units, the Marine Corps could not establish a quota for Negroes based on national racial proportions and could offer no promise of equal treatment and opportunity in work assignments and promotions.

Thus all the services emerged from their deliberations with postwar policies that were markedly different in several respects but had in common a degree of segregation. The Army, declaring that military efficiency demanded ultimate integration, temporized, guaranteeing as a first step an intricate system of separate but equal treatment and opportunity for Negroes. The Marine Corps began with the idea that separate but equal service was not discriminatory, but when equal service proved unattainable, black marines were left with separatism alone. The Navy announced the most progressive policy of all, providing for integration of its general service. Yet it failed to break the heavy concentration of Negroes (p. 175) in the Steward's Branch, where no whites served. And unlike the segregated Army, the integrated Navy, its admission standards too high to encourage black enlistments, did not guarantee to take any black officers or specialists.

None of these policies provided for the equal treatment and opportunity guaranteed to every black serviceman under the Constitution, although the racial practices of all the services stood far in advance of those of most institutions in the society from which they were derived. The very weaknesses and inadequacies inherent in these policies would in themselves become a major cause of the reforms that were less than a decade away.

CHAPTER 7 (p. 176)

A Problem of Quotas

The War Department encountered overwhelming problems when it tried to put the Gillem Board's recommendations into practice, and in the end only parts of the new policy for the use of black manpower were ever carried out. The policy foundered for a variety of reasons: some implicit in the nature of the policy itself, others the result of manpower exigencies, and still others because of prejudices lingering in the staff, the Army, and the nation at large.

Even before the Army postwar racial policy was published in War Department Circular 124 on 27 April 1946 it met formidable opposition in the staff. Although Secretary Patterson had approved the new course of action, the Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel, General Paul, sent a copy of what he called the "proposed" policy to the Army Air Forces for further comment.[7-1] The response of the air commander, General Carl Spaatz, revealed that he too considered the policy still open for discussion. He suggested that the Army abandon the quota in favor of admitting men on the basis of intelligence and professional ability and forbid enlistment to anyone scoring below eighty in the entry tests. He wanted the composite organizations of black and white units recommended by the board held to a minimum, and none smaller than an air group—a regimental-size unit. Black combat units should have only black service units in support. In fact, Spaatz believed that most black units should be service units, and he wanted to see Negroes employed in overhead assignments only where and when their specialties were needed. He did not want jobs created especially for them.[7-2]

These were not the only portents of difficulty for the new policy. Before its publication General Paul had announced that he would not establish a staff group on racial affairs as called for by the Gillem Board. Citing manpower shortages and the small volume of work he envisaged, Paul planned instead to divide such duties between his Welfare Branch and Military Personnel Services Group.[7-3] The concept of a central authority for the direction of racial policy was further weakened in April when Paul invited the Assistant Chief of Staff for Organization and Training, General Edwards, one of whose primary tasks was to decide the size and number of military units, to share responsibility for carrying out the recommendations of the Gillem Board.[7-4]

Assistant (p. 177) Secretary Petersen was perturbed at the mounting evidence of opposition. Specifically, he believed Spaatz's comments indicated a lack of accord with Army policy, and he wanted the Army Air Forces told that "these basic matters are no longer open for discussion." He also wanted to establish a troop basis that would lead, without the imposition of arbitrary percentages, to the assignment of a "fair proportion" of black troops to all major commands and their use in all kinds of duties in all the arms and services. Petersen considered the composite unit one of the most important features of the new policy, and he wanted "at least a few" such units organized soon. He mentioned the assignment of a black parachute battalion to the 82d Airborne Division as a good place to begin.

Petersen had other concerns. He was distressed at the dearth of black specialists in overhead detachments, and he wondered why War Department Circular 105, which provided for the assignment of men to critically needed specialties, explicitly excluded Negroes.[7-5] He wanted the circular revised. Above all, Petersen feared the new policy might falter from a lack of aggressive leadership. He estimated that at first it would require at least the full attention of several officers under the leadership of an "aggressive officer who knows the Army and has its confidence and will take an active interest in vigorous enforcement of the program."[7-6] By implication Petersen was asking General Paul to take the lead.

Within a week of Petersen's comments on leadership, Paul had revised Circular 105, making its provisions applicable to all enlisted men, regardless of race or physical profile.[7-7] A few days later, he was assuring Petersen that General Spaatz's comments were "inconsistent with the approved recommendations" and were being disregarded.[7-8] Paul also repeated the principal points of the new policy for the major commanders, especially those dealing with composite units and overhead assignments for black specialists. He stressed that, whenever possible, Negroes should be assigned to places where local community attitudes were most favorable and no undue burden would be imposed on local civilian facilities.[7-9]

General Paul

General Paul

General Paul believed the principal impediment to practical application of the new policy was not so much the opposition of field commanders as the fact that many black units continued to perform poorly. He agreed with Marcus Ray, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, who had predicted as early as January 1946 that the success of the Gillem Board's recommendations would depend on how many Negroes of higher than average ability the armed forces could attract and retain. Ray reasoned that among the Negroes enlisting in the Regular Army—14 (p. 178) percent of the 1945 total—were large numbers of noncommissioned officers in the three highest grades whose abilities were limited. They were able to maintain their ratings, usually in service units, because their duties required knowledge of neither administration nor weapons. Truckmasters, foremen, riggers, and the like, they rushed to reenlist in order to freeze themselves in grade. Since many of these men were in the two lowest test categories, they could not supply the leaders needed for black units. Ray wanted to replace these men with better educated enlistees who could be used on the broadened professional base recommended by the Gillem Board. To that end he wanted the Army to test all enlisted men, discharge those below minimum standards, and launch a recruiting campaign to attract better qualified men, both black and white.[7-10] For his part, Paul also deplored the enlistment of men who were, in his words, "mentally incapable of development into the specialists, technicians, and instructors that we must have in the post-war Regular Army."[7-11]

Here, even before the new racial policy was published, the Army staff ran head on into the realities of postwar manpower needs. In a rapid demobilization, the Army was critically short of troops, particularly for overseas replacements, and it could maintain troop strength only by accepting all the men it could get. Until Paul had more definite information on the future operations of Selective Service and the rate of voluntary Regular Army enlistments, he would have to postpone action to curtail the admission of low-scoring men. So pressing were the Army's needs that Paul could do nothing to guarantee that black strength would not greatly exceed the 10 percent figure suggested by the Gillem Board. He anticipated that by 1 July 1946 the regular and active reserve components of the Army would together be approximately 15 percent black, a percentage impossible to avoid if the Army was to retain 1.8 million men. Since all planning had been based on a 10 percent black strength, plans would have to be revised to make use of the excess. In February 1946 the Chief of Staff approved General Paul's program: Negroes would continue to be drafted at the 10 percent ratio; at the same time their enlistment in the Regular Army would continue without restriction on numbers. Negroes would be limited to 15 percent of (p. 179) the overseas commands, and the continental commands would absorb all the rest.[7-12]

Paul's program for absorbing Negroes faced rough going, for the already complex manpower situation was further complicated by limitations on the use of Negroes in certain overseas theaters and the demands of the War Department's major commands. The Army was prohibited by an agreement with the State Department from sending Negroes to the Panama Canal Zone; it also respected an unwritten agreement that barred black servicemen from Iceland, the Azores, and China.[7-13] Since the War Department was unable to use Negroes everywhere, the areas where they could be used had to take more. The increase in black troops provoked considerable discussion in the large Pacific and European commands because it entailed separate housing, transportation, and care for dependents—all the usual expensive trappings of segregation. Theater commanders also faced additional problems in public relations and management. As one War Department staff officer claimed, black units required more than normal administration, stricter policing, and closer supervision. This in turn demanded additional noncommissioned officers, and "more Negro bodies must be maintained to produce equivalent results."[7-14]

Both commands protested the War Department decision. Representatives from the European theater arrived in Washington in mid-February 1946 to propose a black strength of 8.21 rather than the prescribed 15 percent. Seeking to determine where black soldiers could be used "with the least harmful effect on theater operations," they discovered in conferences with representatives of the War Department staff only the places Negroes were not to be used: in infantry units, in the constabulary, which acted as a border patrol and occupation police, in highly technical services, or as supervisors of white civilian laborers.[7-15]

The commander of Army Forces, Pacific, was even more insistent on a revision, asking how he could absorb so many Negroes when his command was already scheduled to receive 50,000 Philippine Scouts and 29,500 Negroes in the second half of 1947. These two groups, which the command considered far less adaptable than white troops to occupational duties, would together make up about 40 percent of the command's total strength. Although Philippine Scouts in the theater never exceeded 31,000, the command's protest achieved some success. The War Department agreed to reduce black troops in the Pacific to 14 percent by 1 January 1947 and 13 percent by 1 July 1947.[7-16]

No (p. 180) sooner had the demands of the overseas theaters been dealt with than the enlarged black quotas came under attack from the commanders of major forces. Instead of planning to absorb more Negroes, the Army Air Forces wanted to divest itself of some black units on the premise that unskilled troops were a liability in a highly technical service. General Spaatz reported that some 60 percent of all his black troops stationed in the United States in January 1946 were performing the duties of unskilled laborers and that very few could be trained for skilled tasks. He predicted that the Army Air Forces would soon have an even higher percentage of low-scoring Negroes because 15 percent of all men enlisting in his Regular Army units—expected to reach a total of 45,000 men by 1 July 1946—were black. To forestall this increase in "undesirable and uneconomical" troops, he wanted to stop inducting Negroes into the Army Air Forces and suspend all black enlistments in the Regular Army.[7-17]

The Army Air Forces elaborated on these arguments in the following months, refining both its estimates and demands. Specifically, its manpower officials estimated that to reach the 15 percent black strength ordered by 1 July 1946 the Air Forces would have to take 50,500 Negroes into units that could efficiently use only 22,000 men. This embarrassment of more than 28,000 unusable men, the Army Air Forces claimed, would require eliminating tactical units and creating additional quartermaster car companies, mess platoons, and other service organizations.[7-18] The Air staff wanted to eliminate the unwanted 28,000 black airmen by raising to eighty the minimum classification test score for Regular Army enlistment in the Army Air Forces. In the end it retreated from this proposal, and on 25 February requested permission to use the 28,000 Negroes in service units, but over and above its 400,000-man troop basis. It promised to absorb all these men into the troop basis by 30 June 1946.[7-19]

The Army staff rejected this plan on the grounds that any excess allowed above the current Air Forces troop basis would have to be balanced by a corresponding and unacceptable deficit in the Army Ground Forces and Army Service Forces.[7-20] The Army Air Forces countered with a proposal to discharge all black enlistees in excess of Air Forces requirements in the European theater who would accept discharge. It had in mind a group of 8,795 Negroes recently enlisted for a three-year period, who, in accordance with a lure designed to stimulate such enlistments, had chosen assignment in the Air Forces and a station in Europe. With a surplus of black troops, the Air Forces found itself increasingly unable to fulfill the "overseas theater of choice" enlistment contract. Since some men would undoubtedly refuse to serve anywhere but Europe, the Air (p. 181) staff reasoned, why not offer a discharge to all men who preferred separation over service elsewhere?

Again the Army staff turned down a request for a reduction in black troops. This time the Air Forces bowed to the inevitable—15 percent of its enlisted strength black—but grudgingly, for a quota of 50,419 Negroes, General Spaatz charged, "seriously jeopardizes the ability of the AAF to perform its assigned mission."[7-21]

The Army Service Forces also objected. When queried,[7-22] the chiefs of its technical and administrative services all agreed they could use only small percentages of black troops, and only those men in the higher categories of the classification test. From the replies of the chiefs it was plain that none of the technical services planned to use Negroes in as much as 10 percent of spaces, and several wanted to exclude black units altogether. Furthermore, the test qualifications they wanted set for many jobs were consistently higher than those achieved by the men then performing the tasks. The staff of the Army Service Forces went so far as to advocate that no more than 3.29 percent of the overhead and miscellaneous positions in the Army Service Forces be entrusted to black troops.[7-23]

These answers failed to impress the War Department's Director of Personnel and Administration and the Director of Organization and Training.[7-24] Both agreed that the technical and administrative services had failed to appreciate the problems and responsibilities outlined in War Department Circular 124; the assumption that black troops would not be used in certain types of duty in the future because they had not been so used in the past was unwarranted, General Paul added. Limited or token employment of Negroes, he declared, was no longer acceptable.[7-25]

Yet somehow the reality of black enlistments and inductions in 1946 never quite matched the Army's dire predictions. According to plans for 1 April 1946, Negroes in the continental United States would comprise 15.2 percent of the Army Service Forces, 15.4 percent of the Army Ground Forces, and 17 percent of the Army Air Forces. Actually, Negroes in continental commands on 30 April 1946 made up 14.86 percent of the Army Service Forces, 5.62 percent of the Army Ground Forces, and 11.86 percent of the Army Air Forces. The 116,752 black soldiers amounted to 12.35 percent of all troops based in the United States; (p. 182) overseas, the 67,372 Negroes constituted 7.73 percent of American force. Altogether, the 184,124 Negroes in the Army amounted to 10.14 percent of the whole.[7-26]

The Quota in Practice

While the solution to the problem of too many black enlistees and too many low-scoring men was obvious, it was also replete with difficulty. The difficulty came from the complex way the Army obtained its manpower. It accepted volunteers for enlistment in the Regular Army and qualified veterans for the Organized Reserves; until November 1946 it also drafted men through the Selective Service and accepted volunteers for the draft.[7-27] At the same time, under certain conditions it accepted enlistment in the Regular Army of drafted men who had completed their tours. To curtail enlistment of Negroes and discharge low-scoring professionals, the Army would be obliged to manipulate the complex regulations governing the various forms of enlistment and sidestep the egalitarian provisions of the Selective Service System at a time when the service was trying to attract recruits and avoid charges of racial discrimination. Altogether it was quite a large order, and during the next two years the Army fought the battle of numbers on many fronts.

It first took on the draft. Although to stop inducting Negroes when the administration was trying to persuade Congress to extend the draft act was politically unwise, the Army saw no way to restrict the number of Negroes or eliminate substandard men so long as Selective Service insisted on 10 percent black calls and a minimum classification test score of seventy. In April 1946 the Army issued a call for 126,000 men, boldly specifying that no Negroes would be accepted. Out of the battle of memos with Selective Service that followed, a compromise emerged: a black call of 4 percent of the total in April, a return to the usual 10 percent call for Negroes in May, and another 4 percent call in June.[7-28] No draft calls were issued in July and August, but in September the Army staff tried again, canceling the call for Negroes and rejecting black volunteers for induction.[7-29] Again it encountered resistance from the Selective Service and the black community, and when the Secretary of War was sued for violation of the Selective Service Act the Army issued a 3 percent call for Negroes in October, the last call made under the 1940 draft law. In all, 16,888 Negroes were drafted into the Army in 1946, some 10.5 percent of the total.[7-30]

The (p. 183) Army had more success restricting black enlistments. In April 1946, at the same time it adopted the Gillem Board recommendations, the Army began to deny enlistment or reenlistment in the Regular Army to anyone scoring below seventy on the Army General Classification Test. The only exceptions were men who had been decorated for valor and men with previous service who had scored sixty-five and were recommended for reenlistment by their commanders.[7-31] The Army also stopped enlisting men with active venereal disease, not because the Medical Department was unable to cure them but because by and large their educational levels were low and, according to the classification tests, they had little aptitude for learning. The Army stopped recruiting men for special stations, hoping a denial of the European theater and other attractive assignments would lower the number of unwanted recruits.

Using the new enlistment standards as a base, the Army quickly revised its estimated black strength downward. On 16 April 1946 the Secretary of War rescinded the order requiring major commands to retain a black strength of 15 percent.[7-32] The acting G-3 had already informed the commanding general of the Army Air Forces of the predicted drop in the number of black troops—from 13.3 percent in June 1946 to 10 percent a year later—and agreed the Army Air Forces could reduce its planned intake accordingly.[7-33] Estimating the European theater's capacity to absorb black troops at 21,845 men, approximately 10 percent of the command total, the Army staff agreed to readjust its planned allotment of Negroes to that command downward by some 1,500 spaces.[7-34]

These changes proved ill-advised, for the effort to curb the number of Negroes in the Regular Army was largely unsuccessful. The staff had overlooked the ineffectiveness of the Army's testing measures and the zeal of its recruiters who, pressed to fill their quotas, accepted enlistees without concern for the new standards. By mid-June the effect was readily apparent. The European theater, for example, reported some 19,000 Negroes in excess of billets in black units and some 2,000 men above the theater's current allotment of black troops. Assignment of Negroes to Europe had been stopped, but the number of black regulars waiting for overseas assignment stood at 5,000, a figure expected to double by the end of the summer. Some of this excess could be absorbed in eight newly created black units, but that still left black units worldwide 18 to 40 percent overstrength.[7-35]

Marcus Ray

Marcus Ray

Notice that Negroes totaled 16 percent of the Regular Army on 1 July 1946 with the personnel staff's projections running to a 24 percent level for the next year (p. 184) precipitated action in the War Department. On 15 July Marcus Ray and Dean Rusk, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of War, met with representatives of the Army staff to discuss black strength. Basing his decision on the consensus of that meeting, the Secretary of War on 17 July suspended enlistment of Negroes in the Regular Army. He excepted two categories of men from this ruling. Men who qualified and had actually served for six months in any of forty-eight unusual military occupational specialties in which there were chronic manpower shortages would be enlisted without promise of specific assignment to branch or station. At the same time, because of manpower shortages, the Army would continue to accept Negroes, already regulars, who wanted to reenlist.[7-36]

While the new enlistment policy would help restore the Gillem Board's quantitative equilibrium to the Army, the secretary's exception allowing reenlistment of regulars would only intensify the qualitative imbalance between black and white soldiers. The nation's biracial educational system had produced an average black soldier who scored well below the average white soldier on all the Army's educational and training tests. The segregation policy had only complicated the problem by denying the talented Negro the full range of Army occupations and hence an equal chance for advancement. With the suspension of first-time enlistments, the qualitative imbalance was sure to grow, for now the highly qualified civilian would be passed over while the less qualified soldier was permitted to reenlist.

This imbalance was of particular concern to Marcus Ray who was present when the suspension of black enlistments had been decided upon. Ray had suggested that instead of barring all new enlistees the Army should discharge all Class V soldiers, whites and blacks alike, for the convenience of the government and recruit in their place an equal number of Class I and II candidates. Manpower officials had objected, arguing there was no point in enlisting more Negroes in Class I and II until the 10 percent ratio was again reached. Such a reduction, with current attrition, would take two years. At the same time, the Army manpower shortages made it impractical to discharge 92,000 soldiers, half of whom were white, in Class V. The organization and training representatives, on (p. 185) the other hand, agreed with Ray that it was in the best interest of the Army to discharge these men, pointing out that a recent increase in pay for enlisted men together with the continuing need for recruits with greater aptitude for learning would make the policy palatable to the Congress and the public.[7-37]

The conferees deferred decision on the matter, but during the following months the War Department set out to achieve a qualitative balance between its black and white recruits. On 10 August 1946 the Chief of Staff directed commanders, under the authority of Army Regulation 615-369 which defined ineptness for military service, to eliminate after six months men "incapable of serving in the Army in a desirable manner after reasonable attempts have been made to utilize their capabilities." He went on to explain that this category included those not mentally qualified, generally defined as men scoring below seventy, and those repeatedly guilty of minor offenses.[7-38] The Army reissued the order in 1947, further defining the criteria for discharge to include those who needed continued and special instruction or supervision or who exhibited habitual drunkenness, ineptness, or inability to conform to group living. A further modification in 1949 would deny reenlistment to married men who had failed during their first enlistment to make corporal or single men who did not make private first class.[7-39]

The measures were aimed at eliminating the least qualified men of both races, and in October 1946 General Paul decided the Army could now begin taking black recruits with the qualifications and background that allowed them "to become useful members of the Army."[7-40] To that end The Adjutant General announced on 2 October that as a further exception to the prohibition against black enlistments in the Regular Army all former officers and noncommissioned officers who volunteered would be accepted without limitation.[7-41] On 31 October he announced the establishment of a selective procurement program. With the exception of men who had been in certain specialized occupations for six months, all Negroes enlisting in the Regular Army had to score one hundred on the Army General Classification Test; the minimum score for white enlistees remained seventy.[7-42] At the same time, The Adjutant General rescinded for Negroes the choice-of-assignment provision of Regular Army enlistment contracts.

These measures helped lower the percentage of Negroes in the Army and reduced to some extent the differential in test scores between white and black soldiers. The percentage of Negroes dropped by 30 June 1947 to 7.91 percent of the (p. 186) Army, 8.99 percent of its enlisted strength and 9.4 percent of its Regular Army strength. Black enlisted strength of all the overseas commands stood at 8.75 percent, down from the 10.77 percent of the previous December. Percentages in the individual theaters reflected this trend; the European theater, for example, dropped from 10.33 percent black to 9.96, the Mediterranean theater from 10.05 to 8.03, and Alaska from 26.6 to 14.54.[7-43]

Precise figures on the number of poorly qualified troops eliminated are unknown, but the European command expected to discharge some 12,000 low-scoring and unsuitable men, many of them black, in 1947.[7-44] Several commands reported that the new regulations materially improved the quality of black units by opening vacancies to better qualified men. General Paul could argue with considerable justification that in regulating the quality of its recruits the Army was following the spirit if not the letter of the Gillem Board Report. If the Army could set high enough standards it would get good men, and to this end the General Staff's Personnel and Administration Division asked for the support of commanders.[7-45]

Although these measures were helpful to the Army, they were frankly discriminatory, and they immediately raised a storm of protest. During the summer of 1946, for example, many black soldiers and airmen complained about the Army's rejection of black enlistments for the European theater. The NAACP, which received some of the soldiers' complaints, suggested that the War Department honor its pledges or immediately release all Negroes who were refused their choice of location.[7-46] The Army did just that, offering to discharge honorably those soldiers who, denied their theater of choice, rejected any substitute offered.[7-47]

Later in 1946 a young Negro sued the Secretary of War and a Pittsburgh recruiting officer for refusing to enlist him. To make standards for black applicants substantially higher than those for whites, he alleged, violated the Preamble and Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, while the inducements offered for enlistment, for example the GI Bill of Rights, constituted a valuable property right denied him because of race. The suit asked that all further enlistments in the Army be stopped until Negroes were accepted on equal terms with whites and all special enlistment requirements for Negroes were abolished.[7-48] Commenting on the case, the chief of the War Department's Public Relations Division, Maj. Gen. Floyd L. Parks, defended the Gillem Board's (p. 187) 10 percent quota, but agreed that "we are on weak ground [in] having a different standard for admission between white and colored.... I think the thing to do is to put a ceiling over the number you take in, and then take the best ones."[7-49]

The suit brought to a climax the feeling of indignation against Army policy that had been growing among some civil rights activists. One organization called on the Secretary of War to abandon the Gillem Board policy "and unequivocably and equitably integrate Negroes ... without any discrimination, segregation or quotas in any form, concept or manner."[7-50] Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Jr., of Wisconsin called the decision to suspend black enlistments race discrimination.[7-51] Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Automobile Workers and the codirector of his union's Fair Practices Department, branded the establishment of a quota "undemocratic and in violation of principles for which they [Negroes] fought in the war" and demanded that black enlistment be reinstated and the quota abolished.[7-52] Invoking American tradition and the United Nations Charter, John Haynes Holmes, chairman of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, called for the abolition of enlistment quotas. The national commander of the United Negro and Allied Veterans of America announced that his organization unreservedly condemned the quota because it deliberately deprived citizens of their constitutional right to serve their country.[7-53]

The replies of the Secretary of War to all these protests were very much alike. The Army's enlistment practices, he wrote, were based on a belief that black strength in the Army ought to bear a direct relationship to the percentage of Negroes in the population. As for the basic premise of what seemed to him a perfectly logical course of action, Patterson concluded that "acceptance of the Negro-white ratio existing in the civilian population as a basis for the Army's distribution of units and personnel is not considered discriminatory."[7-54] The secretary's responses were interesting, for they demonstrated a significant change in the Army's attitude toward the quota. There is evidence that the quota was devised by the Gillem Board as a temporary expedient to guarantee the substantial participation of Negroes. It was certainly so viewed by civil rights advocates. As late as December 1946 Assistant Secretary Petersen was still echoing this view when he explained that the quota was a temporary ceiling and the Army had no right to use it as a permanent bar to black enlistment.[7-55]

Nevertheless it is also clear that the traditionalists considered the quota a means of permanently limiting black soldiers to a percentage equivalent to Negroes (p. 188) in the population. Assistant Secretary McCloy belonged to neither group. More than a year before in reviewing the Gillem Board's work he had declared: "I do not see any place for a quota in a policy that looks to utilization of Negroes on the basis of ability."

After a year of dealing with black overstrengths and juggling enlistment standards, General Paul and his staff thought otherwise. They believed that a ceiling must be imposed on the Army's black strength if a rapid and uncontrolled increase in the number of black troops was to be avoided. And it had to be avoided, they believed, lest it create a disproportionately large pool of black career soldiers with low aptitudes that would weaken the Army. Using the quota to limit the number of black troops, they maintained, was not necessarily discriminatory. It could be defended as a logical reading of the Gillem Board's declaration that "the proportion of Negro to white manpower as exists in the civil population" should be accepted in the peacetime Army to insure an orderly and uniform mobilization in a national emergency. With the Gillem policy to support it, the Army staff could impose a strict quota on the number of black soldiers and justify different enlistment standards for blacks and whites, a course that was in fact the only alternative to the curtailment of white enlistment under the manpower restrictions being imposed upon the postwar Army.[7-56]

Paul's reasoning was eventually endorsed by the new Chief of Staff, General Omar N. Bradley, Secretary Patterson, and his successor, Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall.[7-57] Beginning in mid-1947 the enlistment of Negroes was carefully geared to their percentage of the total strength of the Army, not to a fixed quota or percentage of those enlisting. This limitation on black enlistment was made more permanent in 1949 when it was included in the Army's mobilization plan, the basic manpower planning document.[7-58]

The adjustment of enlistment quotas to increase or curtail black strength quickly became routine in the Army. When the number of Negroes dropped below 10 percent of the Army's total strength in June 1947, The Adjutant General set a quota for the enlistment of black soldiers.[7-59] When this quota was met in late August, the enlistment of Negroes with no special training was reduced to 500 men per month.[7-60] As part of a Personnel and Administration Division program to increase the number and kinds of black units, the quota was temporarily increased to 3,000 men per month for four months beginning in (p. 189) December 1947.[7-61] Finding itself once again exceeding the 10 percent black strength figure, the Army suspended the enlistment of all Negroes for nine months beginning in April 1949.[7-62]

In effect, the Gillem Board's critics who predicted that the quota would become permanent were correct, but the quota was only the most publicized manifestation of the general scheme of apportioning manpower by race throughout the Army. General Paul had offered one solution to the problem in July 1946. He recommended that each major command and service be allocated its proportionate share of black troops; that such troops "have the over-all average frequency of AGCT grades occurring among Negro military personnel"; and that major commands and services submit plans for establishing enough units and overhead positions to accommodate their total allocations.[7-63] But Paul did not anticipate the low-scoring soldier's penchant for reenlistment or the ability of some commanders, often on the basis of this fact, to justify the rejection of further black allotments. Thus, in pursuit of a racial policy designed to promote the efficient use of manpower, the G-1 and G-3 sections of the General Staff wrestled for almost five years with the problem of racial balances in the various commands, continental armies, and training programs.

Broader Opportunities

The equitable distribution of Negroes throughout each major command and service was complicated by certain provisions of Circular 124. Along with the quota, the policy prescribed grouping black units, not to exceed regimental size, with white units in composite organizations and integrating black specialists in overhead organizations. The composite organizations were primarily the concern of the G-3 (later the Organization and Training Division) section of the General Staff, and in June 1946 its director, Lt. Gen. Charles P. Hall, brought the matter to the attention of major commanders. Although the War Department did not want to establish an arbitrary number of black combat units, Hall explained, the new policy stressed the development of such units to provide a broader base for future expansion, and he wanted more black combat units organized as rapidly as trained troops became available. To that end he called for a survey of all black units to find out their current organization and assignment.[7-64]

Army Ground Forces reported that it had formed some composite units, but its largest black unit, the 25th Regimental Combat Team, had been attached to the V Corps at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, instead of being made an organic element in a division. Practically all service group headquarters reported separate (p. 190) black and white battalions under their control, but many of the organizations in the Army Service Forces—those under the Provost Marshal General and the Surgeon General, for example—still had no black units, let alone composite organizations. The Caribbean Defense Command, the Trinidad Base Command, and the Headquarters Base Command of the Antilles Department reported similar situations. The Mediterranean theater was using some Negroes with special skills in appropriate overhead organizations, but in the vast European Command Negroes were assigned to separate regiments and smaller units. There were two exceptions: one provisional black regiment was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, and a black field artillery battalion was attached to each of the three occupation divisions. The Alaskan Department and the Okinawa Base Command had black units, both separate and grouped with white units, but the Yokohama Base Command continued to use specially skilled Negroes in black units because of the great demand for qualified persons in those units.[7-65]

To claim, as Hall did to Assistant Secretary Petersen, that black units were being used like white units was misleading. Despite the examples cited in the survey, many black units still remained independent organizations, and with one major exception black combat units grouped with white units were attached rather than assigned as organizational elements of a parent unit. This was an important distinction.[7-66] The constant imposition of attached status on a unit that under normal circumstances would be assigned as an organic element of a division introduced a sense of impermanence and alienation just as it relieved the division commander of considerable administrative control and hence proprietary interest in the unit.

Attached status, so common for black units, thus weakened morale and hampered training as Petersen well understood. Noting the favorable attitude of the division commander, he had asked in April 1946 if it was possible to assign the black 555th Parachute Battalion to the celebrated 82d Airborne Division.[7-67] The answer was no. The commanding general of the Army Ground Forces, General Devers, justified attachment rather than assignment of the black battalion to the 82d on the grounds that the Army's race policy called for the progressive adoption of the composite unit and attachment was a part of this process. Assignment of such units was, on the other hand, part of a long-range plan to put the new policy into effect and should still be subject to considerable study. Further justifying the status quo, he pointed to the division's low strength, which he said resulted from a lack of volunteers. Offering his own variation (p. 191) of the "Catch-22" theme, he suggested that before any black battalion was assigned to a large combat unit, the effect of such an assignment on the larger unit's combat efficiency would first have to be studied. Finally, he questioned the desirability of having a black unit assume the history of a white unit; evidently he did not realize that the intention was to assign a black unit with its black history to the division.[7-68]

General Eichelberger, Eighth Army Commander

General Eichelberger, Eighth Army Commander,
inspects 24th Infantry troops, Camp Majestic, Japan, June 1947.

In the face of such arguments Hall accepted what he called the "nonfeasibility" of replacing one of the 82d's organic battalions with the 555th, but he asked whether an additional parachute battalion could be authorized for the division so that the 555th could be assigned without eliminating a white battalion. He reiterated the arguments for such an assignment, adding that it would invigorate the 555th's training, attract more and better black recruits, and better implement the provisions of Circular 124.[7-69] General Devers remained unconvinced. He doubted that assigning the black battalion (p. 192) to the division would improve the battalion's training, and he was "unalterably opposed" to adding an extra battalion. He found the idea unsound from both a tactical and organizational point of view. It was, he said, undesirable to reorganize a division solely to assign a black unit.[7-70]

General Hall gave up the argument, and the 555th remained attached to the 82d. Attached status would remain the general pattern for black combat units for several years.[7-71] The assignment of the 24th Infantry to the 25th Infantry Division in Japan was the major exception to this rule, but the 24th was the only black regiment left intact, and it was administratively difficult to leave such a large organization in attached status for long. The other black regiment on active duty, the 25th Infantry, was split; its battalions, still carrying their unit designations, were attached to various divisions to replace inactive or unfilled organic elements. The 9th and 10th Cavalry, the other major black units, were inactivated along with the 2d Cavalry Division in 1944, but reactivated in 1950 as separate tank battalions.

That this distinction between attached and assigned status was considered important became clear in the fall of 1947. At that time the personnel organization suggested that the word "separate" be deleted from a sentence of Circular 124: "Employment will be in Negro regiments or groups, separate battalions or squadrons, and separate companies, troops, or batteries." General Paul reasoned that the word was redundant since a black unit was by definition a separate unit. General Devers was strongly opposed to deletion on grounds that it would lead to the indiscriminate organization of small black units within larger units. He argued that the Gillem Board had provided for black units as part of larger units, but not as organic parts. He believed that a separate black unit should continue to be attached when it replaced a white unit; otherwise it would lose its identity by becoming an organic part of a mixed unit. Larger considerations seem also to have influenced his conclusion: "Our implementation of the Negro problem has not progressed to the degree where we can accept this step. We have already progressed beyond that which is acceptable in many states and we still have a considerable latitude in the present policy without further liberalizing it from the Negro viewpoint."[7-72] The Chief of Staff supported Paul's view, however, and the word "separate" was excised.[7-73]

But the practice of attaching rather than assigning black units continued until the end of 1949. Only then, and increasingly during 1950, did the Army begin to assign a number of black units as organic parts of combat divisions. More noteworthy, Negroes began to be assigned to fill the spaces in parts of white (p. 193) units. Thus the 3d Battalion of the 9th Infantry and the 3d Battalion of the 188th became black units in 1950.

Despite the emergence of racially composite units, the Army's execution of the Gillem Board recommendation on the integration of black and white units was criticized by black leaders. The board had placed no limitation on the size of the units to be integrated, and its call for progressive steps to utilize black manpower implied to many that the process of forming composite black and white units would continue till it included the smaller service units, which still contained the majority of black troops. It was one thing, the Army staff concluded, to assign a self-sustaining black battalion to a division, but quite another to assign a small black service unit in a similar fashion. As a spokesman for the Personnel and Administration Division put it in a 1946 address, the Army was "not now ready to mix Negro and white personnel in the same company or battery, for messing and housing." Ignoring the Navy's experience to the contrary, he concluded that to do so might provoke serious opposition from the men in the ranks and from the American public.[7-74]

Accordingly, G-1 and G-3 agreed to reject the Mediterranean theater's 1946 plan to organize composite service units in the 88th Infantry Division because such organization "involves the integration of Negro platoons or Negro sections into white companies, a combination which is not in accordance with the policy as expressed in Circular 124."[7-75] In the separate case of black service companies—for example, the many transportation truck companies and ordnance evacuation companies—theater commanders tended to combine them first into quartermaster trains and then attach them to their combat divisions.[7-76]

Despite the relaxation in the distinction between attached and assigned status in the case of large black units, the Army staff remained adamantly opposed to the combination of small black with small white units. The Personnel and Administration Division jealously guarded the orthodoxy of this interpretation. Commenting on one proposal to combine small units in April 1948, General Paul noted that while grouping units of company size or greater was permissible, the Army had not yet reached the stage where two white companies and two black companies could be organized into a single battalion. Until the process of forming racially composite units developed to this extent, he told the Under Secretary of the Army, William H. Draper, Jr., the experimental mixing of small black and white units had no place in the program to expand the use of Negroes in the Army.[7-77] He did not say when such a process would become appropriate or possible. Several months later Paul flatly told the Chief of Staff that integration of black and white platoons in a company was precluded by stated Army policy.[7-78]

Assignments (p. 194)

The organization of black units was primarily the concern of the Organization and Training Division; the Personnel and Administration Division's major emphasis was on finding more jobs for black soldiers in keeping with the Gillem Board's call for the use of Negroes on a broader professional scale. This could best be done, Paul decided, by creating new black units in a variety of specialties and by using more Negroes in overhead spaces in unit headquarters where black specialists would be completely interspersed with white. To that end his office prepared plans in November 1946 listing numerous occupational specialties that might be offered black recruits. It also outlined in considerable detail a proposal for converting several organizations to black units, including a field artillery (155-mm. howitzer) battalion, a tank company, a chemical mortar company, and an ordnance heavy automotive maintenance company. These units would be considered experimental in the sense that the men would be specially selected and distributed in terms of ability. The officers, Negroes insofar as practical, and cadre noncommissioned officers would be specially assigned. Morale and learning ability would be carefully monitored, and special training would be given men with below average AGCT scores. At the end of six months, these organizations would be measured against comparable white units. Mindful of the controversial aspects of his plan, Paul had a draft circulated among the major commands and services.[7-79]

The Army Ground Forces, first to answer, concentrated on Paul's proposal for experimental black units. Maj. Gen. Charles L. Bolte, speaking for the commanding general, reported that in July 1946 the command had begun a training experiment to determine the most effective assignments for black enlisted men in the combat arms. Because of troop reductions and the policy of discharging individuals with low test scores, he said, the experiment had lasted only five weeks. Five weeks was apparently long enough, however, for Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Caffey, commander of the 25th Regimental Combat Team (Provisional), to reach some rather startling conclusions. He discovered that the black soldier possessed an untrained and undisciplined mind and lacked confidence and pride in himself. In the past the Negro had been unable to summon the physical courage and stamina needed to withstand the shocks of modern battle. Integrating individual Negroes or small black units into white organizations would therefore only lower the standard of efficiency of the entire command. He discounted the integration after the Battle of the Bulge, saying that it succeeded only because it came at the end of the war and during pursuit action. "It still remains a moot question," Caffey concluded, "as to whether the Negroes in integrated units would have fought in a tough attack or defensive battle." Curiously enough he went on to say that until Negroes reached the educational level of whites, they should be organized into small combat units—battalions and smaller—and attached to white organizations in order to learn the proper standards (p. 195) of military discipline, conduct, administration, and training. Despite its unfavorable opinion of experimental black units, the Army Ground Forces did not reject the whole proposal outright but asked for a postponement of six months until its own reorganization, required by the War Department, was completed.[7-80]

The other forces also rejected the idea of experimental black units. General Spaatz once again declared that the mission of the Army Air Forces was already seriously hampered by budgetary and manpower limitations and experimentation would only sacrifice time, money, manpower, and training urgently needed by the Army Air Forces to fulfill its primary mission. He believed, moreover, that such an experiment would be weighted in favor of Negroes since comparisons would be drawn between specially selected and trained black units and average white units.[7-81] In a similar vein the Director of Organization and Training, General Hall, found the conversion "undesirable at this time." He also concluded that the problem was not limited to training difficulties but involved a "combination of factors" and could be solved through the application of common sense by the local commander.[7-82] The Chiefs of Ordnance and the Chemical Corps, the technical services involved in the proposed experiment, concurred in the plan but added that they had no Negroes available for the designated units.[7-83]

In the face of this strong opposition, Paul set aside his plan to establish experimental black units and concentrated instead on the use of Negroes in overhead positions. On 10 January 1947 he drew up for the Chief of Staff's office a list of 112 military occupational specialties most commonly needed in overhead installations, including skilled jobs in the Signal, Ordnance, Transportation, Medical, and Finance Corps from which Negroes had been excluded. He called for an immediate survey of the Army commands to determine specialties to which Negroes might be assigned, the number of Negroes that could be used in each, and the number of Negroes already qualified and available for immediate assignment. Depending on the answers to this survey, he proposed that commanders assign immediately to overhead jobs those Negroes qualified by school training, and open the pertinent specialist courses to Negroes. Black quotas for the courses would be increased, not only for recruits completing basic training, who would be earmarked for assignment to overhead spaces, but also for men already assigned to units, who would be returned to their units for such assignments upon completion of their courses. Negroes thus assigned would perform the same duties as whites alongside them, but they would be billeted and (p. 196) messed in separate detachments or attached to existing black units for quarters and food.[7-84]

This proposal also met with some opposition. General Spaatz, for example, objected on the same grounds he had used against experimental black units. Forcing the military development of persons on the basis of color, General Ira C. Eaker, the deputy commander of Army Air Forces, argued, was detrimental to the organization as a whole. Spaatz added that it was desirable and necessary to select individual men on the basis of their potential contribution to the service rather than in response to such criteria as race.[7-85]

The Acting Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Henry I. Hodes, objected to the timing of the Paul proposal since it would require action by field commanders during a period when continuing mass demobilization and severe budget limitations were already causing rapid and frequent adjustments, especially in overhead installations. He also felt that sending men to school would disrupt unit activities; altogether too many men would be assigned to overhead jobs, particularly during the period when Negroes were receiving training. Finally, he believed that Paul's directive was too detailed. He doubted that it was workable because it centralized power in Washington.[7-86]

General Paul disagreed. The major flow of manpower, he maintained, was going to domestic rather than overseas installations. A relatively small shift of manpower was contemplated in his plan and would therefore cause little dislocation. The plan would provide commanders with the trained men they had been asking for. School training inevitably required men to be temporarily absent from their units, but, since commanders always complained about the scarcity of trained Negroes, Paul predicted that they would accept a temporary inconvenience in order to have their men school trained. The Gillem Board policy had been in effect for nine months, and "no material implementation by field commanders has as yet come to the attention of the division." If any changes were to be accomplished, Paul declared, "a specific directive must be issued." Since the Chief of Staff had charged the Personnel and Administration Division with implementing Gillem Board policy and since that policy expressly directed the use of Negroes in overhead positions, it seemed to Paul "inconceivable that any proposition ... designed to improve the caliber of any of their Negro personnel would be unworkable in the sense of creating a personnel shortage." He again recommended that the directive be approved and released to the public to "further the spirit and recommendations of the Gillem Board Report."[7-87]

His superiors did not agree. Instead of a directive, General Hodes ordered yet another survey to determine whether commanders were actually complying with (p. 197) Circular 124. He wanted all commands to itemize all the occupation specialties of major importance that contained black troops in overhead spaces.[7-88] Needless to say, the survey added little to the Army's knowledge of its racial problems. Most commanders reported full compliance with the circular and had no further recommendations.

With rare exceptions their statistics proved their claims specious. The Far East Command, for example, reported no Negroes in overhead spaces, although General MacArthur planned to incorporate about 400 Negroes into the bulk overhead units in Japan in July 1947. He reported that he would assign Negroes to overhead positions when qualified men could be spared. For the present they were needed in black units.[7-89] Other commands produced similar statistics. The Mediterranean theater, 8 percent black, had only four Negroes in 2,700 overhead spaces, a decrease over the previous year, because, as its commander explained, a shortage of skilled technicians and noncommissioned officers in black units meant that none could be spared. More than 20 percent black, the Alaskan Department had no Negroes in overhead spaces. In Europe, on the other hand, some 2,125 overhead spaces, 18.5 percent of the total, were filled by Negroes.[7-90]

Although Negroes held some 7 percent of all overhead positions in the field services, the picture was far from clear. More than 8 percent of the Army Air Forces' 105,000 overhead spaces, for example, were filled by Negroes, but the Army Ground Forces used only 473 Negroes, who occupied 5 percent of its overhead spaces. In the continental armies almost 14,000 Negroes were assigned to overhead, 13.35 percent of the total of such spaces—a more than equitable figure. Yet most were cooks, bakers, truck drivers, and the like; all finance clerks, motion picture projectionists, and personnel assistants were white. In the field commands the use of Negroes in Signal, Ordnance, Transportation, Medical, and Finance overhead spaces was at a minimum, although figures varied from one command to the other. The Transportation Corps, more than 23 percent black, used almost 25 percent of its Negroes in overhead; the Chemical Corps, 28 percent black, used more than 30 percent of its Negroes in overhead. At the same time virtually all skilled military occupational specialties were closed to Negroes in the Signal Corps, and the Chief of Finance stated flatly: "It is considered impractical to have negro overhead assigned to these [field] activities and none are utilized."[7-91]

The (p. 198) survey attested to a dismal lack of progress in the development of specialist training for Negroes. Although all the commanders of the zone of interior armies reported that Negroes had equal opportunity with whites to attend Army schools, in fact more than half of all the Army's courses were not open to black soldiers regardless of their qualifications. The Ordnance Department, for example, declared that all its technical courses were open to qualified Negroes, but as late as November 1947 the Ordnance School in Atlanta, Georgia, had openings for 440 whites but none for blacks.

Ironically, the results of the Hodes survey were announced just four days short of Circular 124's first birthday. Along with the other surveys and directives of the past year, it demonstrated that in several important particulars the Gillem Board's recommendations were being only partially and indifferently followed. Obviously, some way must be found to dispel the atmosphere of indifference, and in some quarters hostility, that now enveloped Circular 124.

A New Approach

A new approach was possible mainly because General Paul and his staff had amassed considerable experience during the past year in how to use black troops. They had come to understand that the problems inherent in broadening the employment of black soldiers—the procurement of desirable black recruits, their training, especially school training for military occupational specialties, and their eventual placement in spaces that used that training—were interrelated and that progress in one of these areas was impossible without advances in the other two. In November 1947 the Personnel and Administration Division decided to push for a modest step-by-step increase in the number of jobs open to Negroes, using this increase to justify an expansion of school quotas for Negroes and a special recruitment program.

It was a good time for such an initiative, for the Army was in the midst of an important reorganization of its program for specialist training. On 9 May 1947 the War Department had introduced a Career Guidance Program for managing the careers of enlisted men. To help each soldier develop his maximum potential and provide the most equitable system for promotions, it divided all Army jobs into several career fields—two, for example, were infantry and food service—and established certain job progressions, or ladders, within each field. An enlisted man could move up the ladder in his career field to increased responsibility and higher rank as he completed school courses, gained experience, and passed examinations.[7-92]

General Paul wanted to take advantage of this unusually fluid situation. He could point out that black soldiers must be included in the new program, but how was he to fit them in? Black units lacked the diverse jobs open to whites, and as a result Negroes were clustered in a relatively small number of military specialties with few career fields open to them. Moreover, some 111 of the Army's 124 listed school courses required an Army General Classification Test score (p. 199) of ninety for admission, and the Personnel and Administration Division discovered that 72 percent of Negroes enlisted between April 1946 and March 1947 as compared to 29 percent of whites scored below that minimum. Excluded from schools, these men would find it difficult to move up the career ladders.[7-93]

Concerned that the new career program would discriminate against black soldiers, Paul could not, however, agree with the solution suggested by Roy K. Davenport, an Army manpower expert. On the basis of a detailed study that he and a representative of the Personnel and Administration Division conducted on Negroes in the career program, Davenport concluded that despite significant improvement in the quality of black recruits in recent months more than half the black enlisted men would still fail to qualify for the schooling demanded in the new program. He wanted the Army to consider dropping the test score requirement for school admission and substituting a "composite of variables," including length of service in a military occupation and special performance ratings. Such a system, he pointed out, would insure the most capable in terms of performance would be given opportunities for schooling and would eliminate the racial differential in career opportunity. It was equally important, Davenport thought, to broaden arbitrarily the list of occupational specialties, open all school courses to Negroes, and increase the black quotas for courses already open to them.[7-94]

Mindful of the strong opposition to his recent attempts to train Negroes for new overhead assignments, General Paul did not see how occupational specialties could be increased until new units or converted white ones were formed, or, for that matter, how school quotas could be increased unless positions for Negroes existed to justify the training. He believed that the Army should first widen the employment of black units and individuals in overhead spaces, and then follow up with increased school quotas and special recruitment. Paul had already learned from recent surveys that the number of available overhead positions would allow only a modest increase in the number of specialized jobs available to Negroes; any significant increase would require the creation of new black units. Given the limitations on organized units, any increase would be at the expense of white units.

The Organization and Training Division had the right to decide which units would be white and which black, and considering the strong opposition in that division to the creation of more black units, an opposition that enjoyed support from the Chief of Staff's office, Paul's efforts seemed in vain. But again an unusual opportunity presented itself when the Chief of Staff approved a reorganization of the general reserve in late 1947. It established a continentally based, mobile striking force of four divisions with supporting units. Each unit would have a well-trained core of Regular Army or other troops who might be expected (p. 200) to remain in the service for a considerable period of time. Manpower and budget limitations precluded a fully manned and trained general reserve, but new units for the four continental divisions, which were in varying stages of readiness, were authorized.[7-95]

Army Specialists Report for Airborne Training

Army Specialists Report for Airborne Training,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 1948.

Here was a chance to create some black units, and Paul jumped at it. During the activation and reorganization of the units for the general reserve he persuaded the Organization and Training Division to convert nineteen white units to black: seven combat (including infantry and field artillery battalions), five combat support, and seven service units for a total of 8,000 spaces. Nine of the units were attached to general reserve divisions, including the 2d Armored, 2d Infantry, and 82d Airborne Division. The rest, nondivisional elements, were assigned to the various continental armies.[7-96]

With the spaces in hand, the Personnel and Administration Division launched a special drive in late December 1947 to secure 6,318 Negroes, 565 men per week, above the normal recruiting quotas. It called on the commanding generals of the continental armies to enlist men for three years' service in the Regular (p. 201) Army from among those who had previous military service, had completed high school, or had won the Bronze Star, Commendation Ribbon, or a decoration for valor, and who could make a "reasonable" score on the classification test. After basic training at Fort Dix and Fort Knox, the men would be eligible for specialized schooling and direct assignment to the newly converted units.[7-97]

The conversion of units did not expand to any great extent the range of military specialties open to Negroes because they were already serving in similarly organized units. But it did increase the number of skilled occupation slots available to them. To force a further increase in the number of school-trained Negroes, Paul asked The Adjutant General to determine how many spaces for school-trained specialists existed in the units converted from white to black and how many spaces for school-trained specialists were unfilled in black units worldwide. He wanted to increase the quotas for each school-trained specialty to insure filling all these positions.[7-98] He also arranged to increase black quotas in certain Military Police, Signal, and Medical Corps courses, and he insisted that a directive be sent to all major continental commands making mandatory the use of Negroes trained under the increased school quotas.[7-99] Moving further along these lines, Paul suggested The Adjutant General assign a black officer to study measures that might broaden the use of Negroes in the Army, increase school quotas for them, select black students properly, and assign trained black soldiers to suitable specialties.[7-100]

The Adjutant General assigned Maj. James D. Fowler, a black graduate of West Point, class of 1941, to perform all these tasks. Fowler surveyed the nineteen newly converted units and recommended that 1,134 men, approximately 20 percent of those enlisted for the special expansion of the general reserve, be trained in thirty-seven courses of instruction—an increase of 103 black spaces in these courses. Examining worldwide Army strength to determine deficiencies in school-trained specialties in black units, he recommended a total increase of 172 spaces in another thirty-seven courses. Studying the organizational tables of more than two hundred military bases, Fowler recommended that black school quotas for another eleven military occupational specialties, for which there were currently no black quotas, be set at thirty-nine spaces.

On the basis of these recommendations, the Army increased the number of courses with quotas for Negroes from 30 to 62; black quotas were increased in 14 courses; 16 others remained unchanged or their black quotas were slightly decreased. New courses were opened to Negroes in the Adjutant General's School, (p. 202) the airborne section of the Infantry School, and the Artillery, Armored, Engineer, Medical, Military Police, Ordnance, Quartermaster, Signal, and Transportation schools. Courses with increased quotas were in Transportation, Quartermaster, Ordnance, and Engineer schools.[7-101] The number of black soldiers in courses open to recruits quickly grew from 5 to 13.7 percent of total enrollment, and the number of courses open to Negroes rose from 30 to 48 percent of all the entry courses in the Army school system.

The Quota System: An Assessment

The conversion of nineteen units from white to black in December 1947, the procurement of 6,000 Negroes to man these units, and the increases in black quotas for the Army schools to train specialists for these and other black units worldwide marked the high point of the Army's attempt to broaden the employment of Negroes under the terms of the Gillem Board policy. As Paul well knew, the training of black troops was linked to their placement and until the great expansion of the Army in 1950 for the Korean War no other units were converted from white to black. The increase in black combat units and the spread in the range of military occupations for black troops, therefore, were never achieved as planned. The interval between wars ended just as it began with the majority of white soldiers serving in combat or administrative units and the majority of black soldiers continuing to work in service or combat support units.[7-102]

The Personnel and Organization Division made no further requests for increased school quotas for Negroes, and even those increases already approved were short-lived. As soon as the needs of the converted units were met, the school quotas for Negroes were reduced to a level sufficient to fill the replacement needs of the black units. By March 1949, spaces for black students in the replacement stream courses had declined from the 237 recommended by Major Fowler to eighty-two; the number of replacement stream courses open to Negroes fell from 48 percent of all courses offered to 19.8 percent. Fowler had expected to follow up his study of school quotas in the Military Police, Signal Corps, and Medical Corps with surveys of other schools figuring in the Career Guidance Program, but since no additional overhead positions were ever converted from white to black, no further need existed for school quota studies. The three-point study suggested by Paul to find ways to increase school quotas for Negroes was never made.

The War Department's problems with its segregation policy were only intensified by its insistence on maintaining a racial quota. Whatever the authors' intention, the quota was publicized as a guarantee of black participation. In practice it not only restricted the number of Negroes in the Army but also limited the (p. 203) number and variety of black units that could be formed and consequently the number and variety of jobs available to Negroes. Further, it restricted the openings for Negroes in the Army's training schools.

Bridge Players

Bridge Players, Seaview Service Club, Tokyo, Japan, 1948

At the same time, enlistment policies combined with Selective Service regulations to make it difficult for the Army to produce from its black quota enough men with the potential to be trained in those skills required by a variety of units. Attracted by the superior economic status promised by the Army, the average black soldier continued to reenlist, thus blocking the enlistment of potential military leaders from the increasing number of educated black youths. This left the Army with a mass of black soldiers long in service but too old to fight, learn new techniques, or provide leadership for the future. Subject to charges of discrimination, the Army only fitfully and for limited periods tried to eliminate low scorers to make room for more qualified men. Yet to the extent to which it failed to attract educated Negroes and provide them with modern military skills, it failed to perform a principal function of the peacetime Army, that of preparing a cadre of leaders for future wars.

In discussing the problem of low-scoring Negroes it should be remembered that the Army General Classification Test, universally accepted in the armed services as an objective device to measure ability, has been seriously questioned by (p. 204) some manpower experts. Since World War II, for example, educational psychologists have learned that ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds have an important influence on performance in general testing. Davenport, who eventually became a senior manpower official in the Department of Defense has, for one, concluded that the test scores created a distorted picture of the mental ability of the black soldier. He has also questioned the fairness of the Army testing system, charging that uniform time periods were not always provided for black and white recruits taking the tests and that this injustice was only one of several inequalities of test administration that might have contributed to the substantial differences in the scores of applicants.[7-103]

The accuracy of test scores can be ignored when the subject is viewed from the perspective of manpower utilization. In the five years after World War II, the actual number of white soldiers who scored in the lowest test categories equaled or exceeded the number of black soldiers. The Army had no particular difficulty using these white soldiers to advantage, and in fact refused to discharge all Class V men in 1946. Segregation was the heart of the matter; the less gifted whites could be scattered throughout the Army but the less gifted blacks were concentrated in the segregated black units.

Reversing the coin, what could the Army do with the highly qualified black soldier? His technical skills were unneeded in the limited number and variety of black units; he was barred from white units. In an attempt to deal with this problem, the Gillem policy directed that Negroes with special skills or qualifications be employed in overhead detachments. Such employment, however, depended in great part on the willingness of commanders to use school-trained Negroes. Many of these officers complained that taking the best qualified Negroes out of black units for assignment to overhead detachments deprived black units of their leaders. Furthermore, overhead units represented so small a part of the whole that they had little effect on the Army's problem.

The racial quota also complicated the postwar reduction in Army strength. Since the strength and composition of the Army was fixed by the defense budget and military planning, the majority of new black soldiers produced by the quota could be organized into units only at the expense of white units already in existence. In light of past performance of black units and in the interests of efficiency and economy, particularly at a time of reduced operating funds and a growing cold war, how could the Army justify converting efficient white units into less capable black units? The same question applied to the formation of composite units. Grouping lower scoring black units with white units, many of the Army staff believed, would lower the efficiency of the whole and complicate the Army's relations with the civilian community. As a result, the black units remained largely separate, limited in number, and tremendously overstrength throughout the postwar period.

Some (p. 205) of these problems, at least, might have been solved had the Army created a special staff group to oversee the new policy, a key proposal of the Gillem Board. The Personnel and Administration Division was primarily interested in individuals, in trying to place qualified Negroes on an individual basis; the Organization and Training Division was primarily concerned with units, in trying to expand the black units to approximate the combat to service ratio of white units. These interests conflicted at times, and with no single agency possessing overriding authority, matters came to an impasse, blocking reform of Army practices. Instead, the staff played a sterile numbers game, seeking to impose a strict ratio everywhere. But it was impossible to have a 10 percent proportion of Negroes in every post, in every area, in every overseas theater; it was equally impossible to have 10 percent in every activity, in every arm and service, in every type of task. Yet wherever the Army failed to organize its black strength by quota, it was open to charges of racial discrimination.

It would be a mistake to overlook the signs of racial progress achieved under the Gillem Board policy. Because of its provisions thousands of Negroes came to serve in the postwar Regular Army, many of them in a host of new assignments and occupations. But if the policy proved a qualified success in terms of numbers, it still failed to gain equal treatment and opportunity for black soldiers, and in the end the racial quotas and diverse racial units better served those who wanted to keep a segregated Army.

CHAPTER 8 (p. 206)

Segregation's Consequences

The Army staff had to overcome tremendous obstacles in order to carry out even a modest number of the Gillem Board's recommendations. In addition to prejudices the Army shared with much of American society and the institutional inertia that often frustrates change in so large an organization, the staff faced the problem of making efficient soldiers out of a large group of men who were for the most part seriously deficient in education, training, and motivation. To the extent that it overcame these difficulties, the Army's postwar racial policy must be judged successful and, considered in the context of the times, progressive.

Nevertheless, the Gillem Board policy was doomed from the start. Segregation was at the heart of the race problem. Justified as a means of preventing racial trouble, segregation only intensified it by concentrating the less able and poorly motivated. Segregation increased the problems of all commanders concerned and undermined the prestige of black officers. It exacerbated the feelings of the nation's largest minority toward the Army and multiplied demands for change. In the end Circular 124 was abandoned because the Army found it impossible to fight another war under a policy of racial quotas and units. But if the quota had not defeated the policy, other problems attendant on segregation would probably have been sufficient to the task.

Discipline and Morale Among Black Troops

By any measure of discipline and morale, black soldiers as a group posed a serious problem to the Army in the postwar period. The standard military indexes—serious incidents statistics, venereal disease rates, and number of courts-martial—revealed black soldiers in trouble out of all proportion to their percentage of the Army's population. When these personal infractions and crimes were added to the riots and serious racial incidents that continued to occur in the Army all over the world after the war, the dimensions of the problem became clear.

In 1945, when Negroes accounted for 8.5 percent of the Army's average strength, black prisoners entering rehabilitation centers, disciplinary barracks, and federal institutions were 17.3 percent of the Army total. In 1946, when the average (p. 207) black strength had risen to 9.35 percent of the Army's total, 25.9 percent of the soldiers sent to the stockade were Negroes. The following tabulation gives their percentage of all military prisoners by offense:

Military Offenses Negro
Absent without leave 13.4
Desertion 17.4
Misbehavior before the enemy 1.9
Violation of arrest or confinement 12.6
Discreditable conduct toward superior 49.6
Civil Offenses  
Murder 62.2
Rape 53.1
Robbery 33.1
Manslaughter 46.3
Burglary and housebreaking 29.0
Larceny 17.2
Forgery 8.9
Assault 59.0

Source: Correction Branch, TAGO, copy in CMH.

The most common explanation offered for such statistics is that fundamental injustices drove these black servicemen to crime. Probably more to the point, most black soldiers, especially during the early postwar period, served in units burdened with many disadvantaged individuals, soldiers more likely to get into trouble given the characteristically weak leadership in these units. But another explanation for at least some of these crime statistics hinged on commanders' power to define serious offenses. In general, unit commanders had a great deal of discretion in framing the charges brought against an alleged offender; indeed, where some minor offenses were concerned officers could even conclude that a given infraction was not a serious matter at all and simply dismiss the soldier with a verbal reprimand and a warning not to repeat his offense. Whereas one commander might decide that a case called for a charge of aggravated assault, another, faced with the same set of facts, might settle for a charge of simple assault. If it is reasonable to assume that, as a part of the pattern of discrimination, Negroes accused of offenses like misconduct toward superiors, AWOL, and assault often received less generous treatment from their officers than white servicemen, then it is reasonable to suspect that statistics on Negroes involved in crime may reflect such discriminatory treatment.

The crime figures were particularly distressing to the individual black soldier, as indeed they were to his civilian counterpart, because as a member of a highly visible minority he became identified with the wrongdoing of some of his fellows, spectacularly reported in the press, while his own more typical attendance to orders and competent performance of duty were more often buried in the Army's administrative reports. In particular, Negroes among the large overseas (p. 208) commands suffered embarrassment. The Gillem Board policy was announced just as the Army began the occupation of Germany and Japan. As millions of veterans returned home, to be replaced in lesser numbers by volunteers, black troops began to figure prominently in the occupation forces. On 1 January 1947 the Army had 59,795 Negroes stationed overseas, 10.77 percent of the total number of overseas troops, divided principally between the two major overseas commands. By 1 March 1948, in keeping with the general reduction of forces, black strength overseas was reduced to 23,387 men, but black percentages in Europe and the Far East remained practically unchanged.[8-1] It was among these Negroes, scattered throughout Germany and Japan, that most of the disciplinary problems occurred.

During the first two years of peace, black soldiers consistently dominated the Army's serious-incident rate, a measure of indictments and accusations involving troops in crimes against persons and property. In June 1946, for example, black soldiers in the European theater were involved in serious incidents (actual and alleged) at the rate of 2.57 cases per 1,000 men. The rate among white soldiers for the same period was .79 cases per 1,000. The rate for both groups rose considerably in 1947. The figure for Negroes climbed to a yearly average of 3.94 incidents per 1,000; the figure for whites, reflecting an even greater gain, reached 1.88. These crime rates were not out of line with America's national crime rate statistics, which, based on a sample of 173 cities, averaged about 3.25 during the same period.[8-2] Nevertheless, the rate was of particular concern to the government because the majority of the civil offenses were perpetuated against German and Japanese nationals and therefore lowered the prestige and effectiveness of the occupation forces.

Less important but still a serious internal problem for the Army was a parallel rise in the incidence of venereal disease. Various reasons have been advanced for the great postwar rise in the Army's venereal disease rate. It is obvious, for example, that the rapid conversion from war to peacetime duties gave many American soldiers new leisure and freedom to engage in widespread fraternization with the civilian population. Serious economic dislocation in the conquered countries drove many citizens into a life of prostitution and crime. By the same token, the breakdown of public health services had removed a major obstacle to the spread of social disease. But whatever the reasons, a high rate of venereal disease—the overseas rate was three times greater than the rate reported for soldiers in the United States—reflected a serious breakdown in military discipline, posed a threat to the combat effectiveness of the commands, and produced lurid rumors and reports on Army morality.

As in the case of crime statistics, the rate of venereal disease for black soldiers in the overseas commands far exceeded the figure for whites. The Eighth Army, the major unit in the Far East, reported for the month of June 1946 1,263 cases of venereal disease for whites, or 139 cases per 1,000 men per year; 769 cases were reported for Negroes, or 1,186 cases per 1,000 men per year. The rates for the (p. 209) European Command for July 1946 stood at 806 cases per 1,000 Negroes per year as compared with 203 for white soldiers. The disease rate improved considerably during 1947 in both commands, but still the rates for black troops averaged 354 per 1,000 men per year in Eighth Army compared to 89 for whites. In Europe the rate was 663 per 1,000 men per year for Negroes compared to 172 for whites. At the same time the rate for all soldiers in the United States was 58 per 1,000 per year.[8-3] Some critics question the accuracy of these statistics, charging that more white soldiers, with informal access to medical treatment, were able to escape detection by the Medical Department's statisticians, at least in cases of more easily treated strains of venereal disease.

The court-martial rate for black soldiers serving overseas was also higher than for white soldiers. Black soldiers in Europe, for example, were court-martialed at the rate of 3.48 men per 1,000 during the third quarter of 1946 compared with a 1.14 rate for whites. A similar situation existed in the Far East where the black service units had a monthly court-martial rate nearly double the average rate of the Eighth Army as a whole.[8-4]

The disproportionate black crime and disease rates were symptomatic of a condition that also revealed itself in the racially oriented riots and disturbances that continued to plague the postwar Army. Sometimes black soldiers were merely reacting to blatant discrimination countenanced by their officers, to racial insults, and at times even to physical assaults, but nevertheless they reacted violently and in numbers. The resulting incidents prompted investigations, recriminations, and publicity.

Two such disturbances, more spectacular than the typical flare-up, and important because they influenced Army attitudes toward blacks, occurred at Army bases in the United States. The first was a mutiny at MacDill Airfield, Florida, which began on 27 October 1946 at a dance for black noncommissioned officers to which privates were denied admittance. Military police were called when a fight broke out among the black enlisted men and rapidly developed into a belligerent demonstration by a crowd that soon reached mob proportions. Police fire was answered by members of the mob and one policeman and one rioter were wounded. Urged on by its ringleaders, the mob then overwhelmed the main gate area and disarmed the sentries. The rioters retained control of the area until early the next day, when the commanding general persuaded them to disband. Eleven Negroes were charged with mutiny.[8-5] A second incident, a riot with strong racial overtones, occurred at Fort Leavenworth in May 1947 following an altercation between white and black prisoners in the Army Disciplinary Barracks. (p. 210) The rioting, caused by allegations of favoritism accorded to prisoners, lasted for two days; one man was killed and six were injured.[8-6]

Disturbances in overseas commands, although less serious, were of deep concern to the Army because of the international complications. In April 1946, for example, soldiers of the 449th Signal Construction Detachment threw stones at two French officers who were driving through the village of Weyersbusch in the Rhine Palatinate. The officers, one of them injured, returned to the village with French MP's and requested an explanation of the incident. They were quickly surrounded by about thirty armed Negroes of the detachment who, according to the French, acted in an aggressive and menacing manner. As a result, the Supreme French Commander in Germany requested his American counterpart to remove all black troops from the French zone. The U.S. commander in Europe, General Joseph T. McNarney, investigated the incident, court-martialed its instigators, and transferred the entire detachment out of the French zone. At the same time his staff explained to the French that to prohibit the stationing of Negroes in the area would be discriminatory and contrary to Army policy. Black specialists continued to operate in the French zone, although none were subsequently stationed there permanently.[8-7]

The Far East Command also suffered racial incidents. The Eighth Army reported in 1946 that "racial agitation" was one of the primary causes of assault, the most frequent violent crime among American troops in Japan. This racial agitation was usually limited to the American community, however, and seldom involved the civilian population.[8-8]

The task of maintaining a biracial Army overseas in peacetime was marked with embarrassing incidents and time-consuming investigations. The Army was constantly hearing about its racial problems overseas and getting no end of advice. For example, in May 1946 Louis Lautier, chief of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association news service, informed the Assistant Secretary of War that fifty-five of the seventy American soldiers executed for crimes in the European theater were black. Most were category IV and V men. "In light of this fact," Lautier charged, "the blame for the comparatively high rate of crime among black soldiers belongs to the American educational system."[8-9]

But when a delegation of publishers from Lautier's organization toured European installations during the same period, the members took a more comprehensive look at the Seventh Army's race problems. They told Secretary Patterson that they found all American soldiers reacting similarly to poor leadership, substandard living conditions, and menial occupations whenever such conditions existed. Although they professed to see no difference in the conduct of white and black troops, they went on to list factors that contributed to the bad conduct of some of the black troops including the dearth of black officers, hostility of military police, inadequate recreation, and poor camp location. They also pointed out that many soldiers in the occupation had been shipped overseas without (p. 211) basic training, scored low in the classification tests, and served under young and inexperienced noncoms. Many black regulars, on the other hand, once proud members of combat units, now found themselves performing menial tasks in the backwaters of the occupation. Above all, the publishers witnessed widespread racial discrimination, a condition that followed inevitably, they believed, from the Army's segregation policy. Conditions in the Army appeared to them to facilitate an immediate shift to integration; conditions in Europe and elsewhere made such a shift imperative. Yet they found most commanders in Europe still unaware of the Gillem Board Report and its liberalizing provisions, and little being done to encourage within the Army the sensitivity to racial matters that makes life in a biracial society bearable. Until the recommendations of the board were carried out and discrimination stopped, they warned the secretary, the Army must expect racial flare-ups to continue.[8-10]

Characteristically, the Secretary of War's civilian aide, Marcus Ray, never denied evidence of misconduct among black troops, but concentrated instead on finding the cause. Returning from a month's tour of Pacific installations in September 1946, he bluntly pointed out to Secretary Patterson that high venereal disease and court-martial rates among black troops were "in direct proportion to the high percentage of Class IV and Vs among the Negro personnel." Given Ray's conclusion, the solution was relatively simple: the Army should "vigorously implement" its recently promulgated policy, long supported by Ray, and discharge persons with test scores of less than seventy.[8-11]

The civilian aide was not insensitive to the effects of segregation on black soldiers, but he stressed the practical results of the Army's policy instead of making a sweeping indictment of segregation. For example, he criticized the report of the noted criminologist, Leonard Keeler, who had recently studied the criminal activities of American troops in Europe for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division. Ray was critical, not because Keeler had been particularly concerned with the relatively high black crime rate and its effect on Europeans, but because the report overlooked the concentration of segregated black units which had increased the density of Negroes in some areas of Europe to a point where records and reports of misconduct presented a false picture. In effect, black crime statistics were meaningless, Ray believed, as long as the Army's segregation policy remained intact. Where Keeler implied that the solution was to exclude Negroes from Europe, Ray believed that the answer lay in desegregating and spreading them out.[8-12]

It was probably inevitable that all the publicity given racial troubles would attract attention on Capitol Hill. When the Senate's Special Investigations Committee took up the question of military government in occupied Europe in the fall of 1946, it decided to look into the conduct of black soldiers also. Witnesses asserted that black troops in Europe were ill-behaved and poorly disciplined (p. 212) and their officers were afraid to punish them properly for fear of displeasing higher authorities. The committee received a report on the occupation prepared by its chief counsel, George Meader. A curious amalgam of sensational hearsay, obvious racism, and unimpeachable fact, the document was leaked to the press and subsequently denounced publicly by the committee's chairman, Senator Harley M. Kilgore of West Virginia. Kilgore charged that parts of the report dealing with Negroes were obviously based on hearsay. "Neither prejudice nor malice," the senator concluded, "has any place in factual reports."[8-13]

Although the committee's staff certainly had displayed remarkable insensitivity, Meader's recommendations appeared temperate enough. He wanted the committee to explore with the War Department possible solutions to the problem of black troops overseas, and he called on the War Department to give careful consideration to the recommendations of its field commanders. The European commander was already on record with a recommendation to recall all black troops from Europe, citing the absence of Negroes from the U.S. Occupation Army in the Rhineland after World War I. Lt. Gen. Lucius D. Clay, then U.S. Commander, Berlin, who later succeeded General McNarney as theater commander and military governor, wanted Negroes in the occupation army used primarily as parade troops. Meader contended that the War Department was reluctant to act on these theater recommendations because it feared political repercussions from the black community. He had no such fear: "certainly, the conduct of the negro troops, as provable from War Department records, is no credit to the negro race and proper action to solve the problem should not result in any unfavorable reaction from any intelligent negro leaders."[8-14]

The War Department was not insensitive to the opinions being aired on Capitol Hill. The under secretary, Kenneth C. Royall, had already dispatched a group from the Inspector General's office under Brig. Gen. Elliot D. Cooke to find out among other things if black troops were being properly disciplined and to investigate other charges Lt. Col. Francis P. Miller had made before the Special Investigations Committee. Examining in detail the records of one subordinate European command, which had 12,000 Negroes in its force of 44,000, the Cooke group decided that commanders were not afraid to punish black soldiers. Although Negroes were responsible for vehicle accidents and disciplinary infractions in numbers disproportionate to their strength, they also had a proportionately higher court-martial rate.[8-15]

While the Cooke group was still studying the specific charges of the Senate's Investigations Committee, Secretary Patterson decided on a general review of the situation. He ordered Ray to tour European installations and report on how the (p. 213) Gillem Board policy was being put into effect overseas. Ray visited numerous bases and housing and recreation areas in Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Austria. He examined duties, living conditions, morale, and discipline. He also looked into race relations and community attitudes. His month's tour, ending on 17 December 1946, reinforced his conviction that substandard troops—black and white—were at the heart of the Army's crime and venereal disease problem. Ray supported the efforts of local commanders to discharge these men, although he wanted the secretary to reform and standardize the method of discharge. In his analysis of the overseas situation, the civilian aide avoided any specific allusion to the nexus between segregation and racial unrest. In a rare burst of idealism, however, he did condemn those who would exclude Negroes from combat units and certain occupations because of presumed prejudices on the part of the German population. To bow to such prejudices, he insisted, was to negate America's aspirations for the postwar world. In essence, Ray's formula for good race relations was quite simple: institute immediately the reforms outlined in the Gillem Board Report.

In addition to broader use of black troops, Ray was concerned with basic racial attitudes. The Army, he charged, generally failed to see the connection between prejudice and national security; many of its leaders even denied that prejudice existed in the Army. Yet to ignore the problem of racial prejudice, he claimed, condemned the Army to perpetual racial upsets. He wanted the secretary to restate the Army's racial objectives and launch an information and education program to inform commanders and troops on racial matters.[8-16]

In all other respects a lucid progress report on the Gillem Board policy, Ray's analysis was weakened by his failure to point out the effect of segregation on the performance and attitude of black soldiers. Ray believed that the Gillem Board policy, with its quota system and its provisions for the integration of black specialists, would eventually lead to an integrated Army. Preoccupied with practical and imminently possible racial reforms, Ray, along with Secretary Patterson and other reformers within the Army establishment, tended to overlook the tenacious hold that racial segregation had on Army thought.

This hold was clearly illustrated by the reaction of the Army staff to Ray's recommendations. Speaking with the concurrence of the other staff elements and the approval of the Deputy Chief of Staff, General Paul warned that very little could be accomplished toward the long-range objective of the Gillem Board—integration—until the Army completed the long and complex task of raising the quality and lowering the quantity of black soldiers. He also considered it impractical to use Negroes in overhead positions, combat units, and highly technical and professional positions in exact proportion to their percentage of the population. Such use, Paul claimed, would expend travel funds already drastically curtailed and further complicate a serious housing situation. He admitted that the deep-seated prejudice of some Army members in all grades (p. 214) would have a direct bearing on the progress of the Army's new racial policy.

24th Infantry Band, Gifu, Japan, 1947

24th Infantry Band, Gifu, Japan, 1947

The staff generally agreed with Ray's other recommendations with one exception: it opposed his suggestion that black units be used in the European theater's constabulary, the specially organized and trained force that patrolled the East-West border and helped police the German occupation. The theater commander had so few capable Negroes, Paul reasoned, that to siphon off enough to form a constabulary unit would threaten the efficiency of other black units. Besides, even if enough qualified Negroes were available, he believed their use in supervisory positions over German nationals would be unacceptable to many Germans.[8-17] The staff offered no evidence for this latter argument, and indeed there was none available. In marked contrast to their reaction to the French government's quartering of Senegalese soldiers in the Rhineland after World War I, the German attitude toward American Negroes immediately after World War II was notably tolerant, a factor in the popularity among Negroes of assignments to Europe. It was only later that the Germans, especially tavern owners (p. 215) and the like, began to adopt the discriminatory practices of their conquerors.[8-18]

Ray's proposals and the reaction to them formed a kind of watershed in the War Department's postwar racial policy. Just ten months after the Gillem Board Report was published, the Army staff made a judgment on the policy's effectiveness: the presence of Negroes in numbers approximating 10 percent of the Army's strength and at the current qualitative level made it necessary to retain segregation indefinitely. Segregation kept possible troublemakers out of important combat divisions, promoted efficiency, and placated regional prejudices both in the Army and Congress. Integration must be postponed until the number of Negroes in the Army was carefully regulated and the quality of black troops improved. Both, the staff thought, were goals of a future so distant that segregated units were not threatened.

But the staff's views ran contrary to the Gillem Board policy and the public utterances of the Secretary of War. Robert Patterson had consistently supported the policy in public and before his advisers. Besides, it was unthinkable that he would so quickly abandon a policy developed at the cost of so much effort and negotiation and announced with such fanfare. He had insisted that the quota be maintained, most recently in the case of the European Command.[8-19] In sum, he believed that the policy provided guidelines, practical and expedient, albeit temporary, that would lead to the integration of the Army.

In face of this impasse between the secretary and the Army staff there slowly evolved what proved to be a new racial policy. Never clearly formulated—Circular 124 continued in effect with only minor changes until 1950—the new policy was based on the substantially different proposition that segregation would continue indefinitely while the staff concentrated on weeding out poorly qualified Negroes, upgrading the rest, and removing vestiges of discrimination, which it saw as quite distinct from segregation. At the same time the Army would continue to operate under a strict 10 percent quota of Negroes, though not necessarily within every occupation or specialty. The staff overlooked the increasingly evident connection between segregation and racial unrest, thereby assuring the continuation of both. From 1947 on, integration, the stated goal of the Gillem Board policy, was ignored, while segregation, which the board saw as an expedient to be tolerated, became for the Army staff a way of life to be treasured. It was from this period in 1947 that Circular 124 and the Gillem Board Report began to gain their reputations as regressive documents.

Improving the Status of the Segregated Soldier

General Huebner

General Huebner
inspects the 529th Military Police Company, Giessen, Germany, 1948.

In 1947 the Army accelerated its long-range program to discharge soldiers who scored less than seventy on the Army General Classification Test. Often a subject of public controversy, the program formed a major part of the Army's effort (p. 216) to close the educational and training gap between black and white troops.[8-20] Of course, there were other ways to close the gap, and on occasion the Army had taken the more positive and difficult approach of upgrading its substandard black troops by giving them extra training. Although rarely so recognized, the Army's long record of providing remedial academic and technical training easily qualified it as one of the nation's major social engineers.

In World War II thousands of draftees were taught to read and write in the Army's literacy program. In 1946 at Fort Benning an on-duty educational program was organized in the 25th Regimental Combat Team for soldiers, in this case all Negroes, with less than an eighth grade education. Although the project had to be curtailed because of a lack of specialized instructors, an even more ambitious program was launched the next year throughout the Army after a survey revealed an alarming illiteracy rate in replacement troops. In a move of primary importance to black recruits, the Far East Command, for example, ordered all soldiers lacking the equivalent of a fifth grade education to attend courses. The order was later changed to include all soldiers who failed to achieve Army test scores of seventy.[8-21]

In 1947 the European theater launched the most ambitious project by far for improving the status of black troops, and before it was over thousands of black soldiers had been examined, counseled, and trained. The project was conceived and executed by the deputy and later theater commander, Lt. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner, and his adviser on Negro affairs, Marcus Ray, now a lieutenant colonel.[8-22] These men were convinced that a program could be devised to raise the status of the black soldier. Huebner wanted to lay the foundation for a command-wide educational program for all black units. "If you're going to make soldiers out of people," he later explained, "they have the right to be trained." Huebner had specialized in training in his Army career, had written several of the Army's training manuals, and possessed an abiding faith in the ability (p. 217) of the Army to change men. "If your soldiers don't know how, teach them."[8-23]

General Huebner got his chance in March 1947 when the command decided to use some 3,000 unassigned black troops in guard duties formerly performed by the 1st Infantry Division. The men were organized into two infantry battalions,[8-24] but because of their low test scores Huebner decided to establish a twelve-to thirteen-week training program at the Grafenwohr Training Center and directed the commanding general of the 1st Division to train black soldiers in both basic military and academic subjects. Huebner concluded his directive by saying:

This is our first opportunity to put into effect in a large way the War Department policy on Negro soldiers as announced in War Department Circular No. 124, 1946. Owing to the necessity for rapid training, and to the press of occupational duties, little time has been available in the past for developing the leadership of the Negro soldier. We can now do that.... I wish you to study the program, its progress, its deficiencies and its advantages, in order that a full report may be compiled and lessons in operation and training drawn.[8-25]

As the improved military bearing and efficiency of black trainees and the subsequent impressive performance of the two new infantry battalions would suggest, the reports on the Grafenwohr training were optimistic and the lessons drawn ambitious. They prompted Huebner on 1 December 1947 to establish a permanent training center at Kitzingen Air Base.[8-26] Essentially, he was trying to combine both drill and constant supervision with a broad-based educational program. Trainees received basic military training for six hours daily and academic instruction up to the twelfth grade level for two hours more. The command ordered all black replacements and casuals arriving from the United States to the training center for classifying and training as required. Eventually all black units in Europe were to be rotated through Kitzingen for unit refresher and individual instruction. As each company completed the course at Kitzingen, the command assigned academic instructors to continue an on-duty educational program in the field. A soldier was required to participate in the educational program until he passed the general education development test for high school level or until he clearly demonstrated that he could not profit from further instruction.

Washington was quick to perceive the merit of the European program, and Paul reported widespread approval "from all concerned."[8-27] The program quickly (p. 218) produced some impressive statistics. Thousands of soldiers—at the peak in 1950 more than 62 percent of all Negroes in the command—were enrolled in the military training course at Kitzingen or in on-duty educational programs organized in over two-thirds of the black companies throughout the command. By June 1950 the program had over 2,900 students and 200 instructors. A year later, the European commander estimated that since the program began some 1,169 Negroes had completed fifth grade in his schools, 2,150 had finished grade school, and 418 had passed the high school equivalency test.[8-28] The experiment had a practical and long-lasting effect on the Army. For example, in 1950 a sampling of three black units showed that after undergoing training at Kitzingen and in their own units the men scored an average of twenty points higher in Army classification tests. According to a 1950 European Command estimate, the command's education program was producing some of the finest trained black troops in the Army.

Reporting to Kitzingen

Reporting to Kitzingen.
Men of Company B, 371st Infantry Battalion, arrive for refresher course in basic military training.

The training program even provoked jealous reaction among some white troops who claimed that the educational opportunities offered Negroes discriminated against them. They were right, for in comparison to the on-duty high school courses offered Negroes, the command restricted courses for white soldiers to so-called literacy training or completion of the fifth grade. Command spokesmen quite openly justified the disparity on the grounds that Negroes on the (p. 219) whole had received fewer educational opportunities in the United States and that the program would promote efficiency in the command.[8-29]

Whether a connection can be made between the Kitzingen training program and improvement in the morale and discipline of black troops, the fact was that by January 1950 a dramatic change had occurred in the conduct of black soldiers in the European Command. The rate of venereal disease among black soldiers had dropped to an average approximating the rate for white troops (and not much greater than the always lower average for troops in the United States). This phenomenon was repeated in the serious incident rate. In the first half of 1950 courts-martial that resulted in bad conduct discharges totaled fifty-nine for Negroes, a figure that compared well with the 324 similar verdicts for the larger contingent of white soldiers.[8-30] For once the Army could document what it had always preached, that education and training were the keys to the better performance of black troops. The tragedy was that the education program was never applied throughout the Army, not even in the Far East and in the United States, where far more black soldiers were stationed than in Europe.[8-31] The Army lost yet another chance to fulfill the promise of its postwar policy.

In later years Kitzingen assumed the task of training black officers, a natural progression considering the attitude of General Huebner and Marcus Ray. The general and the command adviser were convinced that the status of black soldiers depended at least in part on the caliber of black officers commanding them. Huebner deftly made this point in October 1947 soon after Kitzingen opened when he explained to General Paul that he wanted more "stable, efficient, and interested Negro officers and senior non-commissioned officers" who, he believed, would set an example for the trainees.[8-32] Others shared Huebner's views. The black publishers touring Europe some months later observed that wherever black officers were assigned there was "a noticeable improvement in the morale, discipline and general efficiency of the units involved."[8-33]

The European Command had requisitioned only five black officers during the last eight months, General Paul noted; this might have caused its shortage of black officers. Still, Paul knew the problem went deeper, and he admitted that many black officers now on duty were relatively undesirable and many desirable ones were being declared surplus. He was searching for a solution.[8-34] The Personnel and Administration Division could do very little about the major cause of the shortage, for the lack of black officers was fundamentally connected with the postwar demobilization affecting all the services. Most black officers were unable to compete in terms of length of service, combat experience, and other (p. 220) factors that counted heavily toward retention. Consequently their numbers dropped sharply from an August 1945 high of 7,748 to a December 1947 low of 1,184. The drop more than offset the slight rise in the black percentage of the whole officer corps, .8 percent in 1945 to 1.0 percent in 1947.

At first General Paul was rather passive in his attitude toward the shortage of black officers. Commenting on Assistant Secretary of War Petersen's suggestion in May 1946 that the Army institute a special recruitment program to supplement the small number of black officers who survived the competition for Regular Army appointments, Paul noted that all appointments were based on merit and competition and that special consideration for Negroes was itself a form of discrimination.[8-35] Whether through fear of being accused of discrimination against whites or because of the general curtailment of officer billets, it was not until April 1948 that the Personnel and Administration Division launched a major effort to get more black officers.

In April 1948 General Paul had his Manpower Control Group review the officer strength of seventy-eight black units stationed in the United States. The group uncovered a shortage of seventy-two officers in the seventy-eight units, but it went considerably beyond identifying simple shortages. In estimating the number of black officers needed, the group demonstrated not only how far the Gillem Board policy had committed the Army, but in view of contemporary manpower shortages just how impossible this commitment was of being fulfilled. The manpower group discovered that according to Circular 124, which prescribed more officers for units containing a preponderance of men with low test scores, the seventy-eight units should have 187 additional officers beyond their regular allotment. Also taking into account Circular 124's provision that black officers should command black troops, the group discovered that these units would need another 477 black officer replacements. The group temporized. It recommended that the additional officers be assigned to units in which 70 percent or more of the men were in grades IV and V and without mentioning specific numbers noted that high priority be given to the replacement of white officers with Negroes. Assuming the shortages discovered in the seventy-eight units would be mirrored in the 315 black units overseas as well as other temporary units at home, the group also wanted General Paul to order a comprehensive survey of all black units.[8-36]

Paul complied with the group's request by ordering the major commanders in May to list the number of officers by branch, grade, and specialty needed to fill the vacant spaces in their black units.[8-37] But there was really little need for further (p. 221) surveys because the key to all the group's recommendations—the availability of suitable black officers—was beyond the immediate reach of the Army. General Paul was able to fill the existing vacancies in the seventy-eight continental units by recalling black officers from inactive duty, but the number eligible for recall or available from other sources was limited. As of 31 May 1948, personnel officials could count on only 2,794 black reserve and National Guard officers who could be assigned to extended active duty. This number was far short of current needs; Negroes would have to approximate 4.1 percent (3,000 officers) of the Army's officer corps if all the whites in black units were replaced. As for the other provisions of the Gillem Board, the Organization and Training Division urged restraint, arguing that Circular 124 was not an authorization for officers in excess of organization table ceilings, but rather that the presence of many low-scoring men constituted a basis for requesting more officers.[8-38]

General Paul did not argue the point. Admitting that the 4.1 percent figure was "an objective to be achieved over a period of time," he could do little but instruct the commanders concerned to indicate in future requisitions that they wanted black officers as fillers or replacements in black units. Clearly, as long as the number of black officers remained so low, the provisions of Circular 124 calling for black officers to replace whites or supplement the officer strength of units containing men with low test scores would have to be ignored.

There were other long-range possibilities for procuring more black officers, the most obvious the expansion of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. As of January 1948 the Army had ROTC units at nine predominantly black colleges and universities with a total enrollment of 3,035 cadets. The Organization and Training Division contemplated adding one more unit during 1948, but after negotiations with officials from Secretary Royall's office, themselves under considerable congressional and public pressure, the division added three more advanced ROTC units, one service and two combat, at predominantly black institutions.[8-39] At the same time some hope existed for increasing the number of black cadets at West Point. The academy had nine black cadets in 1948, including five plebes. General Paul hoped that the graduation of these cadets would stimulate further interest and a corresponding increase in applications from Negroes.[8-40]

It was probably naive to assume that an increase of black cadets from four to nine would stir much interest when other statistics suggested that black officers had a limited future in the service. As Secretary Royall pointed out, even if the total number of black officers could not be quickly increased, the percentage of black (p. 222) officers in the Regular Army could.[8-41] Yet by April 1948 the Army had almost completed the conversion of reservists into regulars, and few black officers had been selected. In June 1945, for example, there were 8 black officers in the Regular Army; by April 1948 they numbered only 41, including 4 West Point graduates and 32 converted reservists.[8-42] The Army had also recently nominated 13 young Negroes, designated Distinguished Military Graduates of the advanced ROTC program, for Regular Army commissions.

During the Regular Army integration program, 927 Negroes and 122,520 whites applied for the Regular Army; the Army and the Air Force awarded commissions to 27,798 white officers (22.7 percent of those applying) and 96 black officers (10.3 percent of the applicants). Preliminary rejections based on efficiency and education ran close to 40 percent of the applicants of both races. The disparity in rejections by race appeared when applicants went before the Selection Board itself; only 18.55 percent of the remaining black applicants were accepted while 39.35 percent of the white applicants were selected for Regular Army commissions.[8-43]

Given statistics like these, it was difficult to stimulate black interest in a career as an Army officer, as General Paul was well aware. He had the distribution of black officers appointed to the Regular Army studied in 1947 to see if it was in consonance with the new racial policy. While most of the arms and services passed muster with the Personnel and Administration Division, Paul felt compelled to remind the Chief of Engineers, whose corps had so far awarded no Regular Army commission to the admittedly limited number of black applicants, that officers were to be accepted in the Regular Army without regard to race. He repeated this warning to the Quartermaster General and the Chief of Transportation; both had accepted black officers for the Regular Army but had selected only the smallest fraction of those applying. Although the black applicants did score slightly below the whites, Paul doubted that integration would lower the standards of quality in these branches, and he wanted every effort made to increase the number of black officers.[8-44]

The Chief of Engineers, quick to defend his record, explained that the race of candidates was difficult to ascertain and had not been considered in the selection process. Nevertheless, he had reexamined all rejected applications and found (p. 223) two from Negroes whose composite scores were acceptable. Both men, however, fell so short of meeting the minimum professional requirements that to appoint either would be to accord preferential treatment denied to hundreds of other underqualified applicants.[8-45] It would appear that bias and prejudice were not the only governing factors in the shortage of black officers, but rather that in some ways at least Circular 124 was making impossible demands on the Army's personnel system.

Discrimination and the Postwar Army

Training black soldiers and trying to provide them with black officers was a practical move demanded by the Army's new race policy. At the same time, often with reluctance and only after considerable pressure had been brought to bear, the Army also began to attack certain practices that discriminated against the black soldier. One was the arbitrary location of training camps after the war. In November 1946, for example, the Army Ground Forces reorganized its training centers for the Army, placing them at six installations: Fort Dix, New Jersey; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Lewis, Washington, and Fort Ord, California. White enlisted and reenlisted men were sent to the training centers within the geographical limits of the Army area of their enlistment. Because it was impossible for the Army Ground Forces to maintain separate black training cadres of battalion size at each of the six centers, all Negroes, except those slated for service in the Army Air Forces, were sent to Fort Jackson.[8-46]

The Gillem Board had called for the assignment of Negroes to localities where community attitudes were favorable, and Marcus Ray protested the Ground Forces action. "It is in effect a restatement of policy and ... has implications which will affect adversely the relationship of the Army and our Negro manpower potential.... I am certain that this ruling will have the immediate effect of crystallizing Negro objections to the enlistment of qualified men and also Universal Military Training."[8-47]

Ray reminded Assistant Secretary of War Petersen that the Fort Jackson area had been the scene of many racial disturbances since 1941 and that an increase in the black troop population would only intensify the hostile community attitude. He wanted to substitute Fort Dix and Fort Ord for Fort Jackson. He also had another suggestion: Why not assign black training companies to white battalions, especially in those training centers that drew their populations from northern, eastern, and western communities?

Petersen ignored for the time being Ray's suggestion for composite training groups, but he readily agreed on training black soldiers at more congenial posts, particularly after Ray's views were aired in the black press. Petersen also urged the (p. 224) Deputy Chief of Staff to coordinate staff actions with Ray whenever instructions dealing with race relations in the Army were being prepared.[8-48] At the same time, Secretary of War Patterson assured Walter White of the NAACP, who had also protested sending Negroes to Fort Jackson, that the matter was under study.[8-49] Within a matter of months Negroes entering the Army from civilian life were receiving their training at Fort Dix and Fort Ord.

Turning its back on the overt racism of some southern communities, the Army unwittingly exposed an example of racism in the west. The plan to train Negroes at Fort Ord aroused the combined opposition of the citizens around Monterey Bay, who complained to Senator William F. Knowland that theirs was a tourist area unable to absorb thousands of black trainees "without serious threat of racial conflict." The Army reacted with forthright resistance. Negroes would be trained at Fort Ord, and the Secretary of the Army would be glad to explain the situation and cooperate with the local citizenry.[8-50]

On the recommendation of the civilian aide, the Assistant Secretary of War introduced another racial reform in January 1947 that removed racial designations from overseas travel orders and authorizations issued to dependents and War Department civilian employees.[8-51] The order was strongly opposed by some members of the Army staff and had to be repeated by the Secretary of the Army in 1951.[8-52] Branding racial designations on travel orders a "continuous source of embarrassment" to the Army, Secretary Frank Pace, Jr., sought to include all travel orders in the prohibition, but the Army staff persuaded him it was unwise. While the staff agreed that orders involving travel between reception centers and training organizations need not designate race, it convinced the secretary that to abolish such designations on other orders, including overseas assignment documents, would adversely affect strength and accounting procedures as well as overseas replacement systems.[8-53] The modest reform continued in effect until the question of racial designation became a major issue in the 1960's.

Not all the reforms that followed the Gillem Board's deliberations were so quickly adopted. For in truth the Army was not the monolithic institution so often depicted by its critics, and its racial directives usually came out of compromises between the progressive and traditional factions of the staff. The integration of the national cemeteries, an emotion-laden issue in 1947, amply demonstrated that sharp differences of opinion existed within the department. Although long-standing regulations provided for segregation by rank only, local custom, and in one case—the Long Island National Cemetery—a 1935 order by Secretary (p. 225) of War George H. Dern, dictated racial segregation in most of the cemeteries. The Quartermaster General reviewed the practice in 1946 and recommended a new policy specifically opening new sections of all national cemeteries to eligible citizens of all races. He would leave undisturbed segregated grave sites in the older sections of the cemeteries because integration would "constitute a breach of faith with the next of kin of those now interred."[8-54] As might be expected, General Paul supported the quartermaster suggestion, as did the commander of the Army Ground Forces. The Army Air Forces commander, on the other hand, opposed integrating the cemeteries, as did the Chief of Staff, who on 22 February 1947 rejected the proposal. The existing policy was reconfirmed by the Under Secretary of War three days later, and there the matter rested.[8-55]

Not for long, for civil rights spokesmen and the black press soon protested. The NAACP confessed itself "astonished" at the Army's decision and demanded that Secretary Patterson change a practice that was both "un-American and un-democratic."[8-56] Marcus Ray predicted that continuing agitation would require further Army action, and he reminded Under Secretary Royall that cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the Navy, Veterans Administration, and Department of the Interior had been integrated with considerable publicity. He urged adoption of the Quartermaster General's recommendation.[8-57] That was enough for Secretary Patterson. On 15 April he directed that the new sections of national cemeteries be integrated.[8-58]

It was a hollow victory for the reformers because the traditionalists were able to cling to the secretary's proviso that old sections of the cemeteries be left alone, and the Army continued to gather its dead in segregation and in bitter criticism. Five months after the secretary's directive, the American Legion protested to the Secretary of War over segregation at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minnesota, and in August 1950 the Governor's Interracial Commission of the State of Minnesota carried the matter to the President, calling the policy "a flagrant disregard of human dignity."[8-59] The Army continued to justify segregation as a temporary and limited measure involving the old sections, but a decade after the directive the commander of the Atlanta Depot was still referring to segregation in some cemeteries.[8-60] The controversial practice would drag on into the next decade before the Department of Defense finally ruled that there would be no lines drawn by rank or race in national cemeteries.

An (p. 226) attempt to educate the rank and file in the Army's racial policy met some opposition in the Army staff. At General Paul's request, the Information and Education Division prepared a pamphlet intended to improve race relations through troop indoctrination.[8-61] Army Talk 170, published on 1 April 1947, was, like its World War II predecessors, Command of Negro Troops and The Negro Soldier, progressive for the times. While it stressed the reforms projected in the Army's policy, including eventual integration, it also clearly defended the Army's continued insistence on segregation on the grounds that segregation promoted interracial harmony. The official position of the service was baldly stated. "The Army is not an instrument of social reform. Its interest in matters of race is confined to considerations of its own effectiveness."

Even before publication the pamphlet provoked considerable discussion and soul-searching in the Army staff. The Deputy Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Thomas T. Handy, questioned some of the Information and Education Division's claims for black combatants. In the end the matter had to be taken to General Eisenhower for resolution. He ordered publication, reminding local commanders that if necessary they should add further instructions of their own, "in keeping with the local situation" to insure acceptance of the Army's policy. The pamphlet was not to be considered an end in itself, he added, but only one element in a "progressive process toward maximum utilization of manpower in the Army."[8-62]

Segregation in Theory and Practice

Efforts to carry out the policy set forth in Circular 124 reached a high-water mark in mid-1948. By then black troops, for so long limited to a few job categories, could be found in a majority of military occupational fields. The officer corps was open to all without the restrictions of a racial quota, and while a quota for enlisted men still existed all racial distinctions in standards of enlistment were gone. The Army was replacing white officers in black units with Negroes as fast as qualified black replacements became available. And more were qualifying every day. By 30 June 1948 the Army had almost 1,000 black commissioned officers, 5 warrant officers, and 67 nurses serving with over 65,000 enlisted men and women.[8-63]

But here, in the eyes of the Army's critics, was the rub: after three years of racial reform segregation not only remained but had been perfected. No longer would the Army be plagued with the vast all-black divisions that had segregated thousands of Negroes in an admittedly inefficient and often embarrassing manner. Instead, Negroes would be segregated in more easily managed hundreds. By (p. 227) limiting integration to the battalion level (the lowest self-sustaining unit in the Army system), the Army could guarantee the separation of the races in eating, sleeping, and general social matters and still hope to escape some of the obvious discrimination of separate units by making the black battalions organic elements of larger white units. The Army's scheme did not work. Schooling and specialty occupations aside, segregation quite obviously remained the essential fact of military life and social intercourse for the majority of black soldiers, and all the evidence of reasonable and genuine reform that came about under the Gillem Board policy went aglimmering. The Army was in for some rough years with its critics.

But why were the Army's senior officers, experienced leaders at the pinnacle of their careers and dedicated to the well-being of the institution they served, so reluctant to part with segregation? Why did they cling to an institution abandoned by the Navy and the Air Force,[8-64] the target of the civil rights movement and its allies in Congress, and by any reasonable judgment so costly in terms of efficient organization? The answers lie in the reasoned defense of their position developed by these men during the long controversy over the use of black troops and so often presented in public statements and documents.[8-65] Arguments for continued segregation fell into four general categories.

First, segregation was necessary to preserve the internal stability of the Army. Prejudice was a condition of American society, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower told a Senate committee in 1948, and the Army "is merely one of the mirrors that holds up to our faces the United States of America." Since society separated the races, it followed that if the Army allowed black and white soldiers to live and socialize together it ran the very real risk of riots and racial disturbances which could disrupt its vital functions. Remembering the contribution of black platoons to the war in Europe, General Eisenhower, for his part, was willing to accept the risk and integrate the races by platoons, believing that the social problems "can be handled," particularly on the large posts. Nevertheless he made no move toward integrating by platoons while he was Chief of Staff. Later he explained that

the possibility of applying this lesson [World War II integration of Negro platoons] to the peacetime Army came up again and again. Objection involved primarily the social side of the soldier's life. It was argued that through integration we would get into all kinds of difficulty in staging soldiers' dances and other social events. At that time we were primarily occupied in responding to America's determination "to get the soldiers home"—so, as I recall, little progress toward integration was made during that period.[8-66]

Inspection by the Chief of Staff.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with a soldier of the 25th Combat Team Motor Pool during a tour of Fort Benning, Georgia, 1947.

"Liquor (p. 228) and women," Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee pronounced, were the major ingredients of racial turmoil in the Army. Although General Lee had been a prime mover in the wartime integration of combat platoons, he wanted the Army to avoid social integration because of the disturbances he believed would attend it. As General Omar N. Bradley saw it, the Army could integrate its training programs but not the soldier's social life. Hope of progress would be destroyed if integration was pushed too fast. Bradley summed up his postwar attitude very simply: "I said let's go easy—as fast as we can."

Second, segregation was an efficient way to isolate the poorly educated and undertrained black soldier, especially one with a combat occupational specialty. To integrate Negroes into white combat units, already dangerously understrength, would threaten the Army's fighting ability. When he was Chief of Staff, Eisenhower thought many of the problems associated with black soldiers, problems of morale, health, and discipline, were problems of education, and that the Negro was capable of change. "I believe," he said, "that a Negro can improve his standing and his social standing and his respect for certain of the standards that we observe, just as well as we can." Lt. Gen. Wade H. Haislip, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Administration, concluded that the Army's racial mission was education. All that Circular 124 meant, he explained, "was that we had to begin educating the Negro soldiers so they could be mixed sometime in the future." Bradley observed in agreement that "as you begin to get better educated Negroes in the service," there is "more reason to integrate." The Army was pledged to accept Negroes and to give them a wide choice of assignment, but until their education and training improved they had to be isolated.

Third, segregation was the only way to provide equal treatment and opportunity for black troops. Defending this paternalistic argument, Eisenhower told the Senate:

In general, the Negro is less well educated ... and if you make a complete amalgamation, what you are going to have is in every company the Negro is going to be relegated to the minor jobs, and he is never going to get his promotion to such grades as technical sergeant, master sergeant, and so on, because the competition is too tough. If, on the other (p. 229) hand, he is in smaller units of his own, he can go up to that rate, and I believe he is entitled to the chance to show his own wares.

Fourth, segregation was necessary because segments of American society with powerful representatives in Congress were violently opposed to mixing the races. Bradley explained that integration was part of social evolution, and he was afraid that the Army might move too fast for certain sections of the country. "I thought in 1948 that they were ready in the North," he added, "but not in the South." The south "learned over the years that mixing the races was a vast problem." Bradley continued, "so any change in the Army would be a big step in the South." General Haislip reasoned, you "just can't do it all of a sudden." As for the influence of those opposed to maintaining the Army's social status quo, Haislip, who was the Vice Chief of Staff during part of the Gillem Board period, recalled that "everybody was floundering around, trying to find the right thing to do. I didn't lose any sleep over it [charges of discrimination]." General Eisenhower, as he did so often during his career, accurately distilled the thinking of his associates:

I believe that the human race may finally grow up to the point where it [race relations] will not be a problem. It [the race problem] will disappear through education, through mutual respect, and so on. But I do believe that if we attempt merely by passing a lot of laws to force someone to like someone else, we are just going to get into trouble. On the other hand, I do not by any means hold out for this extreme segregation as I said when I first joined the Army 38 years ago.

These arguments might be specious, as a White House committee would later demonstrate, but they were not necessarily guileful, for they were the heartfelt opinions of many of the Army's leaders, opinions shared by officials of the other services. These men were probably blind to the racism implicit in their policies, a racism nurtured by military tradition. Education and environment had fostered in these career officers a reverence for tradition. Why should the Army, these traditionalists might ask, abandon its black units, some with histories stretching back almost a century? Why should the ordered social life of the Army post, for so long a mirror of the segregated society of most civilian communities, be so uncomfortably changed? The fact that integration had never really been tried before made it fraught with peril, and all the forces of military tradition conspired to support the old ways.

What had gone unnoticed by Army planners was the subtle change in the attitude of the white enlisted man toward integration. Opinion surveys were rare in an institution dedicated to the concept of military discipline, but nevertheless in the five years following the war several surveys were made of the racial views of white troops (the views of black soldiers were ignored, probably on the assumption that all Negroes favored integration). In 1946, just as the Gillem Board policy was being enunciated, the Army staff found enlisted men in substantial agreement on segregation. Although most of those surveyed supported the expanded use of Negroes in the Army, an overwhelming majority voted for the principle of having racially separate working and living arrangements. Yet the pollsters found much less opposition to integration when they put their questions on a personal basis—"How do you feel about...?" Only southerners as a group registered a clear majority for segregated working conditions. (p. 230) The survey also revealed another encouraging portent: most of the opposition to integration existed among older and less educated men.[8-67]

General Davis

General Davis

Three years later the Secretary of Defense sponsored another survey of enlisted opinion on segregation. This time less than a third of those questioned were opposed to integrated working conditions and some 40 percent were not "definitely opposed" to complete integration of both working and living arrangements. Again men from all areas tended to endorse integration as their educational level rose; opposition, on the other hand, centered in 1949 among the chronic complainers and those who had never worked with Negroes.[8-68]

In discussing prejudice and discrimination it is necessary to compare the Army with the rest of American society. Examining the question of race relations in the Army runs the risk of distorting the importance given the subject by the nation as a whole in the postwar period. While resistance to segregation was undoubtedly growing in the black community and among an increasing number of progressives in the white community, there was as yet no widespread awareness of the problem and certainly no concerted public effort to end it. This lack of perception might be particularly justified in the case of Army officers, for few of them had any experience with black soldiers and most undoubtedly were not given to wide reading and reflecting on the subject of race relations. Moreover, the realities of military life tended to insulate Army officers from the main currents of American society. Frequently transferred and therefore without roots in the civilian community, isolated for years at a time in overseas assignments, their social life often centered in the military garrison, officers might well have been less aware of racial discrimination.

Perhaps because of the insulation imposed on officers by their duties, the Army's leaders were achieving reforms far beyond those accepted elsewhere in American society. Few national organizations and industries could match the Army in 1948 for the number of Negroes employed, the breadth of responsibility given them, and the variety of their training and occupations. Looked at in (p. 231) this light, the Army of 1948 and the men who led it could with considerable justification be classed as a progressive force in the fight for racial justice.

Segregation: An Assessment

The gap between the Army's stated goal of integration and its continuing practices had grown so noticeable in 1948, a presidential election year, that most civil rights spokesmen and their allies in the press had become disillusioned with Army reforms. Benjamin O. Davis, still the Army's senior black officer and still after eight years a brigadier general, called the Army staff's attention to the shift in attitude. Most had greeted publication of Circular 124 as "the dawn of a new day for the colored soldier"—General Davis's words—and looked forward to the gradual eradication of segregation. But Army practices in subsequent months had brought disappointment, he warned the under secretary, and the black press had become "restless and impatient." He wanted the Army staff to give "definite expression of the desire of the Department of National Defense for the elimination of all forms of discrimination-segregation from the Armed Services."[8-69] The suggestion was disapproved. General Paul explained that the Army could not make such a policy statement since Circular 124 permitted segregated units and a quota that by its nature discriminated at least in terms of numbers of Negroes assigned.[8-70]

In February 1948 the Chief of Information tried to counter criticism by asking personnel and administrative officials to collect favorable opinions from prominent civilians, "particularly Negroes and sociologists." But this antidote to public criticism failed because, as the deputy personnel director had to admit, "the Division does not have knowledge of any expressed favorable opinion either of individuals or organizations, reference our Negro policy."[8-71]

A constant concern because it marred the Army's public image, segregation also had a profound effect on the performance and well-being of the black soldier. This effect was difficult to measure but nevertheless real and has been the subject of considerable study by social scientists.[8-72] Their opinions are obviously open to debate, and in fact most of them were not fully formulated during the period under discussion. Yet their conclusions, based on modern sociological techniques, clearly reveal the pain and turmoil suffered by black soldiers because of racial separation. Rarely did the Army staff bother to delve into (p. 232) these matters in the years before Korea, although the facts on which the scientists based their conclusions were collected by the War Department itself. This indifference is the more curious because the Army had always been aware of what the War Department Policies and Programs Review Board called in 1947 "that intangible aspect of military life called prestige and spirit."[8-73]

Burdened with the task of shoring up its racial policy, the Army staff failed to concern itself with the effect of segregation. Yet by ignoring segregation the staff overlooked the primary cause of its racial problems and condemned the Army to their continuation. It need not have been, because as originally conceived, the Gillem Board policy provided, in the words of the Assistant Secretary of War, for "progressive experimentation" leading to "effective manpower utilization without regard to race or color."[8-74] This reasonable approach to a complex social issue was recognized as such by the War Department and by many black spokesmen. But the Gillem Board's original goal was soon abandoned, and in the "interest of National Defense," according to Secretary Royall, integration was postponed for the indefinite future.[8-75] Extension of individual integration below the company level was forbidden, and the lessons learned at the Kitzingen Training Center were never applied elsewhere; in short, progressive experimentation was abandoned.

The Gillem Board era began with Secretary Patterson accepting the theory of racially separate but equal service as an anodyne for temporary segregation; it ended with Secretary Royall embracing a permanent separate but equal system as a shield to protect the racial status quo. While Patterson and his assistants accepted restriction on the number of Negroes and their assignment to segregated jobs and facilities as a temporary expedient, military subordinates used the Gillem Board's reforms as a way to make more efficient a segregation policy that neither they nor, they believed, society in general was willing to change. Thus, despite some real progress on the periphery of its racial problem, the Army would have to face the enemy in Korea with an inefficient organization of its men.

The Army's postwar policy was based on a false premise. The Gillem Board decided that since Negroes had fought poorly in segregated divisions in two world wars, they might fight better in smaller segregated organizations within larger white units. Few officers really believed this, for it was commonly accepted throughout the Army that Negroes generally made poor combat soldiers. It followed then that the size of a unit was immaterial, and indeed, given the manpower that the Army received from reenlistments and Selective Service, any black unit, no matter its size, would almost assuredly be an inefficient, spiritless group of predominately Class IV and V men. For in addition to its educational limitations, the typical black unit suffered a further handicap in the vital matter of motivation. The Gillem Board disregarded this fact, but it was rarely overlooked (p. 233) by the black soldier: he was called upon to serve as a second-class soldier to defend what he often regarded as his second-class citizenship. In place of unsatisfactory black divisions, Circular 124 made the Army substitute three unsatisfactorily mixed divisions whose black elements were of questionable efficiency and a focus of complaint among civil rights advocates. Commanders at all levels faced a dilemma implicit in the existence of white and black armies side by side. Overwhelmed by regulations and policies that tried to preserve the fiction of separate but equal opportunity, these officers wasted their time and energy and, most often in the case of black officers, lost their self-confidence.

In calling for the integration of small black units rather than individuals, the Gillem Board obviously had in mind the remarkably effective black platoons in Europe in the last months of World War II. But even this type of organization was impossible in the postwar Army because it demanded a degree of integration that key commanders, especially the major Army component commanders, were unwilling to accept.

These real problems were intensified by the normal human failings of prejudice, vested interest, well-meaning ignorance, conditioned upbringing, shortsightedness, preoccupation with other matters, and simple reluctance to change. The old ways were comfortable, and the new untried, frightening in their implications and demanding special effort. Nowhere was there enthusiasm for the positive measures needed to implement the Gillem Board's recommendations leading to integration. This unwillingness to act positively was particularly noticeable in the Organization and Training Division, in the Army Ground Forces, and even to some extent in the Personnel and Administration Division itself.

The situation might have improved had the Gillem Board been able or willing to spell out intermediate goals. For the ultimate objective of using black soldiers like white soldiers as individuals was inconceivable and meaningless or radical and frightening to many in the Army. Interim goals might have provided impetus for gradual change and precluded the virtual inertia that gripped the Army staff. But at best Circular 124 served as a stopgap measure, allowing the Army to postpone for a few more years any substantial change in race policy. This postponement cost the service untold time and effort devising and defending a system increasingly under attack from the black community and, significantly, from that community's growing allies in the administration.

CHAPTER 9 (p. 234)

The Postwar Navy

That Army concerns and problems dominated the discussions of race relations in the armed forces in the postwar years is understandable since the Army had the largest number of Negroes and the most widely publicized segregation policy of all the services. At the same time the Army bore, unfairly, the brunt of public criticism for all the services' race problems. The Navy, committed to a policy of integration, but with relatively few Negroes in its integrated general service or in the ranks of the segregated Marine Corps and the new Air Force, its racial policy still fluid, merely attracted less attention and so escaped many of the charges hurled at the Army by civil rights advocates both in and out of the federal government. But however different or unformed their racial policies, all the services for the most part segregated Negroes in practice and all were open to charges of discrimination.

Although the services developed different racial policies out of their separate circumstances, all three were reacting to the same set of social forces and all three suffered from race prejudice. They also faced in common a growing indifference to military careers on the part of talented young Negroes who in any case would have to compete with an aging but persistent group of less talented black professionals for a limited number of jobs. Of great importance was the fact that the racial practices of the armed forces were a product of the individual service's military traditions. Countless incidents support the contention that service traditions were a transcendent factor in military decisions. Marx Leva, Forrestal's assistant, told the story of a Forrestal subordinate who complained that some admirals were still opposed to naval aviation, to which Forrestal replied that he knew some admirals who still opposed steam engines.[9-1] Forrestal's humorous exaggeration underscored the tenacity of traditional attitudes in the Navy. Although self-interest could never be discounted as a motive, tradition also figured prominently, for example, in the controversy between proponents of the battleship and proponents of the aircraft carrier. Certainly the influence of tradition could be discerned in the antipathy of Navy officials toward racial change.[9-2]

The Army also had its problems with tradition. It endured tremendous inner conflict before it decided to drop the cavalry in favor of mechanized and armored units. Nor did the resistance to armor die quickly. Former Chief of Staff Peyton (p. 235) C. March reported that a previous Chief of Cavalry told him in 1950 that the Army had betrayed the horse.[9-3] President Roosevelt was also a witness to how military tradition frustrated attempts to change policy. He picked his beloved Navy to make the point: "To change anything in the Na-a-vy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching."[9-4] Many senior officers resisted equal treatment and opportunity simply because of their traditional belief that Negroes needed special treatment and any basic change in their status was fraught with danger.[9-5]

Still, tradition could work two ways, and in the case of the Navy, at least, the postwar decision to liberalize racial practices can be traced in part to its sense of tradition. When James Forrestal started to integrate the general service in 1944, his appeals to his senior military colleagues, the President, and the public were always couched in terms of military efficiency. But if military efficiency made the new policy announced in February 1946 inevitable, military tradition made partial integration acceptable. Black sailors had served in significant numbers in an integrated general service during the nation's first century and a half, and those in the World War II period who spoke of a traditional Navy ban against Negroes were just as wrong as those who spoke of a traditional ban on liquor. The same abstemious secretary who completely outlawed alcohol on warships in 1914 initiated the short-lived restrictions on the service of Negroes in the Navy.[9-6] Both limited integration and liquor were old traditions in the American Navy, and the influence of military tradition made integration of the general service relatively simple.

Forrestal was convinced that in order to succeed racial reform must first be accepted by the men already in uniform; integration, if quietly and gradually put into effect, would soon demonstrate its efficiency and make the change acceptable to all members of the service. Quiet gradualism became the hallmark of his effort. In August 1945 the Navy had some 165,000 Negroes, almost 5.5 percent of its total strength. Sixty-four of them, including six women, were commissioned officers.[9-7] Presumably, these men and women would be the first to enjoy the fruits of the new integration order. Their number could also be expected to increase because, as Secretary Forrestal reported in August 1946, the only quotas on enlistment were those determined by the needs of the Navy and the (p. 236) limitation of funds.[9-8] Even as he spoke, at least some black sailors were being trained in almost all naval ratings and were serving throughout the fleet, on planes and in submarines, working and living with whites. The signs pointed to a new day for Negroes in the Navy.

Shore Leave in Korea.

Shore Leave in Korea.
Men of the USS Topeka land in Inch'on, 1948.

But during the chaotic months of demobilization a different picture began to emerge. Although Negroes continued to number about 5 percent of the Navy's enlisted strength, their position altered radically. The average strength figures for 1946 showed 3,300 Negroes, 16 percent of the total black strength, serving in the integrated general service while 17,300, or 84 percent, were classified as stewards. By mid-1948 the outlook was somewhat brighter, but still on the average only 38 percent of the Negroes in the Navy held jobs in the general service while 62 percent remained in the nonwhite Steward's Branch. At this time only three black officers remained on active duty. Again, what Navy officials saw as military efficiency helps explain this postwar retreat. Because of its rapidly sinking manpower needs, the Navy could afford to set higher enlistment standards than the Army, and the fewer available spaces in the general service went overwhelmingly to the many more eligible whites who applied. Only in the Steward's Branch, with its separate quotas and lower enlistment standards, did (p. 237) the Navy find a place for the many black enlistees as well as the thousands of stewards ready and willing to reenlist for peacetime service.

If efficiency explains why the Navy's general service remained disproportionately white, tradition explains how segregation and racial exclusion could coexist with integration in an organization that had so recently announced a progressive racial policy. Along with its tradition of an integrated general service, the Navy had a tradition of a white officer corps. It was natural for the Navy to exclude black officers from the Regular Navy, Secretary John L. Sullivan said later, just as it was common to place Negroes in mess jobs.[9-9] A modus vivendi could be seen emerging from the twin dictates of efficiency and tradition: integrate a few thousand black sailors throughout the general service in fulfillment of the letter of the Bureau of Naval Personnel circular; as for the nonwhite Steward's Branch and the lack of black officers, these conditions were ordinary and socially comfortable. Since most Navy leaders agreed that the new policy was fair and practical, no further changes seemed necessary in the absence of a pressing military need or a demand from the White House or Congress.

To black publicists and other advocates of civil rights, the Navy's postwar manpower statistics were self-explanatory: the Navy was discriminating against the Negro. Time and again the Navy responded to this charge, echoing Secretary Forrestal's contention that the Navy had no racial quotas and that all restrictions on the employment of black sailors had been lifted. As if suggesting that all racial distinctions had been abandoned, personnel officials discontinued publishing racial statistics and abolished the Special Programs Unit.[9-10] Cynics might have ascribed other motives for these decisions, but the civil rights forces apparently never bothered. For the most part they left the Navy's apologists to struggle with the increasingly difficult task of explaining why the placement of Negroes deviated so markedly from assignment for whites.

The Navy's difficulty in this regard stemmed from the fact that the demobilization program under which it geared down from a 3.4 million-man service to a peacetime force of less than half a million was quite straightforward and simple. Consequently, the latest state of the Negro in the Navy was readily apparent to the black serviceman and to the public. The key to service in the postwar Navy was acceptance into the Regular Navy. The wartime Navy had been composed overwhelmingly of reservists and inductees, and shortly after V-J day the Navy announced plans for the orderly separation of all reservists by September 1946. In April 1946 it discontinued volunteer enlistment in the Naval (p. 238) Reserve for immediate active duty, and in May it issued its last call for draftees through Selective Service.[9-11]

At the same time the Bureau of Naval Personnel launched a vigorous program to induce reservists to switch to the Regular Navy. In October 1945 it opened all petty officer ratings in the Regular Navy to such transfers and offered reservists special inducements for changeover in the form of ratings, allowance extras, and, temporarily, short-term enlistments. So successful was the program that by July 1947 the strength of the Regular Navy had climbed to 488,712, only a few thousand short of the postwar authorization. The Navy ended its changeover program in early 1947.[9-12] While it lasted, black reservists and inductees shared in the program, although the chief of the personnel recruiting division found it necessary to amplify the recruiting instructions to make this point clear.[9-13] The Regular Navy included 7,066 enlisted Negroes on V-J day, 2.1 percent of the total enlisted strength. This figure nearly tripled in the next year to 20,610, although the percentage of Negroes only doubled.[9-14]

The Steward's Branch

The major concern of the civil rights groups was not so much the number of Negroes in the Regular Navy, although this remained far below the proportion of Negroes in the civilian population, but that the majority of Negroes were being accepted for duty in the nonwhite Steward's Branch. More than 97 percent of all black sailors in the Regular Navy in December 1945 were in this branch. The ratio improved somewhat in the next six months when 3,000 black general service personnel (out of a wartime high of 90,000) transferred into the Regular Navy while more than 10,000 black reservists and draftees joined the 7,000 regulars already in the Steward's Branch.[9-15] The statistical low point in terms of the ratio of Negroes in the postwar regular general service and the Steward's Branch occurred in fiscal year 1947 when only 19.21 percent of the Navy's regular black personnel were assigned outside the Steward's Branch.[9-16] In short, more than eight out of every ten Negroes in the Navy trained and worked separately from white sailors, performing menial tasks and led by noncommissioned officers denied the perquisites of rank.

The Navy itself had reason to be concerned. The Steward's Branch created efficiency problems and was a constant source of embarrassment to the service's public image. Because of its low standards, the branch attracted thousands of poorly educated and underprivileged individuals who had a high rate of venereal (p. 239) disease but were engaged in preparing and serving food. Leaders within the branch itself, although selected on the basis of recommendations from superiors, examinations, and seniority, were often poor performers. Relations between the individual steward and the outfit to which he was assigned were often marked by personal conflicts and other difficulties. Consequently, while stewards eagerly joined the branch in the Regular Navy, the incidence of disciplinary problems among them was high. The branch naturally earned the opprobrium of civil rights groups, who were sensitive not only to the discrimination of a separate branch for minorities but also to the unfavorable image these men created of Negroes in the service.[9-17]

Mess Attendants, USS Bushnell, 1918

Mess Attendants, USS Bushnell, 1918

The Navy had a ready defense for its management of the branch. Its spokesmen frequently explained that it performed an essential function, especially at sea. Since this function was limited in scope, they added, the Navy was able to reduce the standards for the branch, thus opening opportunities for many men otherwise ineligible to join the service. In order to offer a chance for advancement the Navy had to create a separate recruiting and training system for (p. 240) stewards. This separation in turn explained the steward's usual failure to transfer to branches in the regular command channels. Since there were no minimum standards for the branch, it followed that most of its noncommissioned officers remained unqualified to exercise military command over personnel other than their branch subordinates. Lack of command responsibility was also present in a number of other branches not directly concerned with the operation of ships. It was not the result of race prejudice, therefore, but of standards for enlistment and types of duties performed. Nor was the steward's frequent physical separation based on race; berthing was arranged by department and function aboard large vessels. Separation did not exist on smaller ships. Messmen were usually berthed with other men of the supply department, including bakers and storekeepers. Chief stewards, however, as Under Secretary Kimball later explained, had not been required to meet the military qualifications for chief petty officer, and therefore it was "considered improper that they should be accorded the same messing, berthing, club facilities, and other privileges reserved for the highest enlisted grade of the Navy."[9-18] Stewards of the lower ranks received the same chance for advancement as members of other enlisted branches, but to grant them command responsibility would necessitate raising (p. 241) qualifications for the whole branch, thus eliminating many career stewards and extending steward training to include purely military subjects.[9-19]

Mess Attendants, USS Wisconsin, 1953

Mess Attendants, USS Wisconsin, 1953

There was truth in these assertions. Stewards had taken advantage of relaxed regulations, flocking into the Regular Navy during the first months of the changeover program. Many did so because they had many years invested in a naval career. Some may have wanted the training and experience to be gained from messman's service. In fact, some stewards enjoyed rewarding careers in restaurant, club, and hotel work after retirement. More surprising, considering the numerous complaints about the branch from civil rights groups, the Steward's Branch consistently reported the highest reenlistment rate in the Navy. Understandably, the Navy constantly reiterated these statistics. Actually, the stewards themselves were a major stumbling block to reform of the branch. Few of the senior men aspired to other ratings; many were reluctant to relinquish what they saw as the advantages of the messman's life. Whatever its drawbacks, messman's duty proved to be a popular assignment.[9-20]

The Navy's defense was logical, but not too convincing. Technically the Steward's Branch was open to all, but in practice it remained strictly nonwhite. Civil rights activists could point to the fact that there were six times as many illiterate whites as Negroes in the wartime Navy, yet none of these whites were ever assigned to the Steward's Branch and none transferred to that branch of the Regular Navy after the war.[9-21] Moreover, shortly after the war the Bureau of Naval Personnel predicted a 7,577-man shortage in the Steward's Branch, but the Navy made no attempt to fill the places with white sailors. Instead, it opened the branch to Filipinos and Guamanians, recruiting 3,500 of the islanders before the program was stopped on 4 July 1946, the date of Philippine independence. Some Navy recruiters found other ways to fill steward quotas. The Urban League and others reported cases in which black volunteers were rejected by recruiters for any assignment but steward duty.[9-22] Nor did civil rights spokesmen appreciate the distinction in petty officer rank the Navy made between the steward and other sailors; they continued to interpret it as part and parcel of the "injustices, lack of respect and the disregard for the privileges accorded rated men in other branches of the service."[9-23] They also resented the paternalism implicit in the secretary's assurances that messman's duty was a haven for men unable to compete.

Some individuals in the department were aware of this resentment in the black community and pushed for reform in the Steward's Branch. The Assistant Secretary (p. 242) of the Navy for Air, John Nicholas Brown, wanted more publicity given both in and outside the service to the fact that the branch was not restricted to any one race and, conversely, that Negroes were welcome in the general service.[9-24] In view of the strong tradition of racial separateness in the stewards rating, such publicity might be considered sheer sophistry, but no more so than the suggestion made by a senior personnel official that the Commissary Branch and Steward's Branch be combined to achieve a racially balanced specialty.[9-25] Lester Granger, now outside the official Navy family but still intimately concerned with the department's racial affairs, also pleaded for a merger of the commissary and steward functions. He reasoned that, since members of the Commissary Branch could advance to true petty officer rating, such a merger would provide a new avenue of advancement for stewards.

But more to the point Granger also pushed for reform in the standards of the Steward's Branch. He recognized that educational and other requirements had been lowered for stewards, but, he told Forrestal's successor, Secretary John L. Sullivan, there was little wisdom in "compounding past error." He also pointed out that not all messmen were in the lower intelligence classifications and recommended that the higher scoring men be replaced with low-scoring whites.[9-26]

From within the Navy itself Lt. Dennis D. Nelson, one of the first twelve Negroes commissioned and still on active duty, added his voice to the demand for reform of the Steward's Branch. An analogy may be drawn between the Navy career of Nelson and that of the legendary Christopher Sargent. Lacking Sargent's advantages of wealth and family connection, Nelson nevertheless became a familiar of Secretary Sullivan's and, though not primarily assigned to the task, made equal opportunity his preeminent concern. A highly visible member of the Navy's racial minority in Washington, he made himself its spokesman, pressing senior officials to bring the department's manpower practices closer to its stated policy. Once again the Navy experienced the curious phenomenon of a lieutenant firing off memos and letters to senior admirals and buttonholing the Secretary of the Navy.[9-27]

Nelson had a host of suggestions for the Steward's Branch: eliminate the branch as a racially separate division of labor in the Navy, provide permanent officer supervision for all steward units, develop capable noncommissioned officers in the branch with privileges and responsibilities similar to those of other petty officers, indoctrinate all personnel in the ramifications of the Navy's stated integration policy, and create a committee to work out the details of these changes. On several occasions Nelson tried to show his superiors how nuances in their own behavior toward the stewards reinforced, perhaps as much as separate service itself, the image of discrimination. He recommended that the steward's uniform be changed, eliminating the white jacket and giving the steward a regular (p. 243) seaman's look. He also suggested that petty officer uniforms for stewards be regularized. At one poignant moment this lonely officer took on the whole service, trying to change singlehandedly a thoughtless habit that demeaned both blacks and whites. He admonished the service: "refrain from the use of 'Boy' in addressing Stewards. This has been a constant practice in the Service and is most objectionable, is in bad taste, shows undue familiarity and pins a badge of inferiority, adding little to the dignity and pride of adults."[9-28]

In summing up these recommendations for the Secretary of the Navy in January 1949, Nelson reminded Sullivan that only 37 percent of the Navy's Negroes were in the general service, in contrast to 72 percent of the Negroes in the Marine Corps. He warned that this imbalance perturbed the members of the recently convened National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs and predicted it would interest those involved in the forthcoming presidential inquiry on equality in the armed forces.[9-29]

Despite its continued defense of the status quo in the Steward's Branch, the Bureau of Naval Personnel was not insensitive to criticism. To protect Negroes from overzealous recruiters for the branch, the bureau had announced in October 1945 that any Negro in the general service desiring transfer to the Steward's Branch had to make his request in writing.[9-30] In mid-1946 it closed the branch to first enlistment, thereby abolishing possible abuses in the recruiting system.[9-31] Later in the year the bureau tried to upgrade the quality of the branch by instituting a new and more rigorous training course for second-and third-class stewards and cooks at Bainbridge, Maryland. Finally, in June 1947 it removed from its personnel manual all remaining mention of restrictions on the transfer of messmen to the general service.[9-32] These changes were important, but they failed to attack racial separation, the major problem of the branch. Thus the controversy over messmen, in which tradition, prejudice, and necessity contended, went on, and the Steward's Branch, a symbol of discrimination in the Navy, remained to trouble both the service and the civil rights groups for some time.

Black Officers

Commander Nelson

Commander Nelson

The Navy had a racial problem of more immediate concern to men like Lieutenant Nelson, one of three black officers remaining on active duty. These were the survivers of a most exclusive group that had begun its existence with much hope. In the months following graduation of the first twelve black officers and one warrant officer in March 1944, scores of Negroes had passed through the Navy's training school. By the end of the war the V-12 program had thirty-six black candidates, with three others attending the Supply Corps School at Harvard. (p. 244) The number of black officers had grown at an agonizingly slow rate, although in June 1944 the Secretary of the Navy approved a personnel bureau request that in effect removed any numerical quotas for black officers. Unfortunately, black officers were still limited to filling "needs as they appeared," and the need for black officers was curtailed by the restricted range of activities open to them in the segregated wartime service. Further, most nominees for commissions were selected from the ranks and depended on the sponsorship of their commanding officer who might not be able to spare a competent enlisted man who deserved promotion. Putting the matter in the best possible light, one Navy historian blamed the dearth of black officers on bureaucratic inertia.[9-33]

Despite procurement failures and within the limitations of general segregation policy, the Navy treated black officers with scrupulous fairness during the war. The Bureau of Naval Personnel insisted they be given the privileges of rank in wardroom and ashore, thus crushing an attempt by authorities at Great Lakes to underwrite a tacit ban on the use of the officers' club by Negroes. In fact, integration proved to be more the rule than the exception in training black officers. The small number of black candidates made segregated classes impractical, and after graduation of the first group of black officers at Great Lakes, Negroes were accepted in all officer candidate classes. As part of this change, the Special Programs Unit successfully integrated the Navy's officer candidate school in the posh hotels of still-segregated Miami Beach.

The officers graduated into a number of assignments. Some saw duty aboard district and yard craft, others at departmental headquarters in Washington. A few served in recruit training assignments at Great Lakes and Hampton Institute, but the majority went overseas to work in logistical and advanced base companies, the stevedore-type outfits composed exclusively of Negroes. Nelson, for example, was sent to the Marshall Islands where he was assigned to a logistic support company composed of some three hundred black sailors and noncommissioned officers with a racially mixed group of officers. Black staff officers, engineers, doctors, dentists, and chaplains were also attached to these units, where they had limited responsibilities and little chance for advancement.[9-34]

Exceptions (p. 245) to the assignment rule increased during the last months of the war. The Special Programs Unit had concluded that restricting black officers to district craft and shore billets might further encourage the tendency to build an inshore black Navy, and the Bureau of Naval Personnel began assigning black officers to seagoing vessels when they completed their sea duty training. By July 1945 several were serving in the fleet. To avoid embarrassment, the Chief of Naval Personnel made it a practice to alert the commanding officers of a ship about to receive a black officer so that he might indoctrinate his officers. As his assistant, Rear Adm. William M. Fechteler, explained to one such commander, "if such officers are accorded the proper respect and are required to discharge the duties commensurate with their rank they should be equally competent to white officers of similar experience."[9-35]

Fechteler's prediction proved accurate. By V-J day, the Navy's black officers, both line and staff, were serving competently in many occupations. The bureau reported that the "personnel relationship aspect" of their introduction into the service had worked well. Black officers with white petty officers and enlisted men under them handled their command responsibilities without difficulty, and in general bureau reports and field inspections noted considerable satisfaction with their performance.[9-36] But despite this satisfactory record, only three black officers remained on active duty in 1946. The promise engendered by the Navy's treatment of its black officers in the closing months of the war had not been fulfilled during the demobilization period that followed, and what had been to the civil rights movement a brightening situation rapidly became an intolerable one.

There were several reasons for the rapid demobilization of black officers. Some shared the popular desire of reserve officers to return to civilian life. Among them were mature men with substantial academic achievements and valuable technical experience. Many resented in particular their assignment to all-black labor units, and wanted to resume their civilian careers.[9-37] But a number of black officers, along with over 29,000 white reservists, did seek commissions in the Regular Navy.[9-38] Yet not one Negro was granted a regular commission in the first eighteen months after the war. Lester Granger was especially upset by these statistics, and in July 1946 he personally took up the case of two black candidates with Secretary Forrestal.[9-39]

The Bureau of Naval Personnel offered what it considered a reasonable explanation. As a group, black reserve officers were considerably overage for their rank and were thus at a severe disadvantage in the fierce competition for regular commissions. The average age of the first class of black officers was over thirty-one years. All had been commissioned ensigns on 17 March 1944, and all had (p. 246) received one promotion to lieutenant, junior grade, by the end of the war. When age and rank did coincide, black reservists were considered for transfer. For example, on 15 March 1947 Ens. John Lee, a former V-12 graduate assigned as gunnery officer aboard a fleet auxiliary craft, received a regular commission, and on 6 January 1948 Lt. (jg.) Edith DeVoe, one of the four black nurses commissioned in March 1945, was transferred into the Regular Navy. The following October Ens. Jessie Brown was commissioned and assigned to duty as the first black Navy pilot.

In a sense, the black officers had the cards stacked against them. As Nelson later explained, the bureau did not extend to its black line officers the same consideration given other reservists. While the first twelve black officers were given unrestricted line officer training, the bureau assigned them to restricted line positions, an added handicap when it came to promotions and retention in the postwar Navy. All were commissioned ensigns, although the bureau usually granted rank according to the candidate's age, a practice followed when it commissioned its first black staff officers, one of whom became a full lieutenant and the rest lieutenants, junior grade. As an overage reservist himself, Nelson remained on active duty after the war through the personal intervention of Secretary Forrestal. His tour in the Navy's public relations office was repeatedly extended until finally on 1 January 1950, thanks to Secretary Sullivan, he received a regular commission.[9-40]

Prospects for an increase in black officers were dim. With rare exception the Navy's officers came from the academy at Annapolis, the officer candidate program, or the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) program. Ens. Wesley A. Brown would graduate in the academy's class of 1949, the sixth Negro to attend and the first to graduate in the academy's 104-year history. Only five other Negroes were enrolled in the academy's student body in 1949, and there was little indication that this number would rapidly increase. For the most part the situation was beyond the control of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Competition was keen for acceptance at Annapolis. The American Civil Liberties Union later asserted that the exclusion of Negroes from many of the private prep schools, which so often produced successful academy applicants, helped explain why there were so few Negroes at the academy.[9-41]

Nor were many black officers forthcoming from the Navy's two other sources. Officer candidate schools, severely reduced in size after the war and a negligible source of career officers, had no Negroes in attendance from 1946 through 1948. Perhaps most disturbing was the fact that in 1947 just fourteen Negroes were enrolled among more than 5,600 students in the NROTC program, the usual avenue to a Regular Navy commission.[9-42] The Holloway program, the basis for the Navy's reserve officer training system, offered scholarships at fifty-two colleges across the nation, but the number of these scholarships was small, the competition intense, and black applicants, often burdened by inferior schooling, did not fare well.

Statistics (p. 247) pointed at least to the possibility that racial discrimination existed in the NROTC system. Unlike the Army and Air Force programs, reserve officer training in the Navy depended to a great extent on state selection committees dominated by civilians. These committees exercised considerable leeway in selecting candidates to fill their state's annual NROTC quota, and their decisions were final. Not one Negro served on any of the state committees. In fact, fourteen of the fifty-two colleges selected for reserve officer training barred Negroes from admission by law and others—the exact number is difficult to ascertain—by policy. One black newspaper charged that only thirteen of the participating institutions admitted Negroes.[9-43] In all, only six black candidates survived this process to win commissions in 1948.

Lester Granger blamed the lack of black candidates on the fact that so few Negroes attended the schools; undoubtedly, more Negroes would have been enrolled in reserve officer training had the program been established at one of the predominantly black colleges. But black institutions were excluded from the wartime V-12 program, and when the program was extended to include fifty-two colleges in November 1945 the Navy again rejected the applications of black schools, justifying the exclusion, as it did for many white schools, on grounds of inadequacies in enrollment, academic credentials, and physical facilities.[9-44] Some black spokesmen called the decision discriminatory. President Mordecai Johnson of Howard University ruefully wondered how the Navy's unprejudiced and nondiscriminatory selection of fifty-two colleges managed to exclude so neatly all black institutions.[9-45]

Others disagreed. From the first the Special Programs Unit had rejected the clamor for forming V-12 units in predominantly black colleges, arguing that in the long run this could be considered enforced segregation and hardly contribute to racial harmony. Although candidates were supposed to attend the NROTC school of their choice, black candidates were restricted to institutions that would accept them. If a black school was added to the program, all black candidates would very likely gravitate toward it. Several black spokesmen, including Nelson, took this attitude and urged instead a campaign to increase the number of Negroes at the various integrated schools in the NROTC system.[9-46] Whatever the best solution, a significant and speedy increase in the number of black officers was unlikely.

Of lesser moment because of the small size of the WAVES and the Nurse Corps, the role of black women in the postwar Navy nevertheless concerned several civil rights leaders. Roy Wilkins, for one, concluded that the Navy's new policy which "hasn't worked out on the officer level ... hadn't worked on the women's level" either.[9-47] The Navy's statistics seemed to proved his contention. The (p. 248) service had 68 black enlisted women and 6 officers (including 4 nurses) on V-J day; a year later the number had been reduced to 5 black WAVES and 1 nurse. The Navy sought to defend these statistics against charges of discrimination. A spokesman explained that the paucity of black WAVES resulted from the fact that Negroes were barred from the WAVES until December 1944, just months before the Navy stopped recruiting all WAVES. Black WAVES who had remained in the postwar Navy had been integrated and were being employed without discrimination.[9-48]

But criticism persisted. In February 1948 the Navy could count six black WAVES out of a total enlisted force of 1,700, and during hearings on a bill to regularize the women's services several congressmen joined with a representative of the NAACP to press for a specific anti-discrimination amendment. The amendment was defeated, but not before Congressman Adam Clayton Powell charged that the status of black women in the Navy proved discrimination and demonstrated that the administration was practicing "not merely discrimination, segregation, and Jim Crowism, but total exclusion."[9-49] The same critics also demanded a similar amendment to the companion legislation on the WAC's, but it, too, was defeated.

Black nurses presented a different problem. Two of the wartime nurses had resigned to marry and the third was on inactive status attending college. The Navy, Secretary Forrestal claimed in July 1947, was finding it difficult to replace them or add to their number. Observing that black leaders had shown considerable interest in the Navy's nursing program, Forrestal noted that a similar interest had not been forthcoming from black women themselves. During the Navy's 1946 recruitment drive to attract 1,000 new nurses, only one Negro applied, and she was disqualified on physical grounds.[9-50]

Public Image and the Problem of Numbers

Individual black nurses no doubt had cogent reasons for failing to apply for Navy commissions, but the fact that only one applied called attention to a phenomenon that first appeared about 1946. Black Americans were beginning to ignore the Navy. Attempts by black reserve officers to procure NROTC applicants in black high schools and colleges proved largely unproductive. Nelson spoke before 8,500 potential candidates in 1948, and a special recruiting team reached an equal number the following year, but the combined effort brought fewer than ninety black applicants to take the competitive examination.[9-51] Recruiters (p. 249) had similar problems in the enlistment of Negroes for general service. Viewed from a different perspective, even the complaints and demands of black citizens, at flood tide during the war, now merely trickled into the secretary's office, reflecting, it could be argued, a growing indifference. That such unwillingness to enlist, as Lester Granger put it, should occur on the heels of a widely publicized promise of racial equality in the service was ironic. The Navy was beginning to welcome the Negro, but the Negro no longer seemed interested in joining.[9-52]

Naval Unit Passes in Review

Naval Unit Passes in Review,
Naval Advanced Base, Bremerhaven, Germany, 1949.

Several reasons were suggested for this attitude. Assistant Secretary Brown placed the blame, at least in part, on the gap between policy and practice. Because of delay in abolishing old discriminatory practices, he pointed out to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, "the Navy's good public relations are endangered."[9-53] The personnel bureau promptly investigated, found justification for (p. 250) complaints of discrimination, and took corrective action.[9-54] Yet, as Nelson pointed out, such corrections, often in the form of "clarifying directives," were usually directed to specific commanders and tied to specific incidents and were ignored by other commanders as inapplicable to their own racial experiences.[9-55] Despite the existence of the racially separate Steward's Branch, the Navy's policy seemed so unassailable to the Chief of Naval Personnel that when his views on a congressional measure to abolish segregation in the services were solicited he reported without reservation that his bureau interposed no objection.[9-56]

The Navy's major racial problem by 1948 was the shockingly small number of Negroes in the service. In November 1948, a presidential election month, Negroes accounted for 4.3 percent of the navy's strength. Not only were there few Negroes in the Navy, but there were especially too few in the general service and practically no black officers, a series of statistics that made the predominately black and separate stewards more conspicuous. The Navy rejected an obvious solution, lowering recruitment standards, contending that it could not run its ships and aircraft with men who scored below ninety in the general classification test.[9-57] The alternative was to recruit among the increasing numbers of educated Negroes, as the personnel bureau had been trying to do. But here, as Nelson and others could report, the Navy faced severe competition from other employers, and here the Navy's public image had its strongest effect.

Lt. Comdr. Edward Hope, a black reserve officer assigned to officer procurement, concluded that the black community, especially veterans, distrusted all the services. Consequently, Negroes tended to disregard announced plans and policies applicable to all citizens unless they were specially labeled "for colored." Negroes tried to avoid the humiliation of applying for certain rights or benefits only to be arbitrarily rejected.[9-58] Compounding the suspicion and fear of humiliation, Hope reported, was a genuine lack of information on Navy policy that seriously limited the number of black applicants.

The cause of confusion among black students over Navy policy was easy to pinpoint, for memories of the frustrations and insults suffered by black seamen during the war were still fresh. Negroes remembered the labor battalions bossed by whites—much like the old plantation system, Lester Granger observed. Unlike the Army, the Navy had offered few black enlisted men the chance of serving in vital jobs under black commanders. This slight, according to Granger, robbed the black sailor of pride in service, a pride that could hardly be restored by the postwar image of the black sailor not as a fighting man but as a servant or laborer. (p. 252) Always a loyal member of the Navy team, Granger was anxious to improve the Navy's public image in the black community, and he and others often advanced plans for doing so.[9-59] But any discussion of image quickly foundered on one point: the Navy would remain suspect in the eyes of black youth and be condemned by civil rights leaders as long as it retained that symbol of racism, the racially separate Steward's Branch.



Here the practical need for change ran headlong into strong military tradition. An integrated general service was traditional and therefore acceptable; an integrated servants' branch was not. Faced with the choice of a small number of Negroes in the Navy and the attendant charges of racism or a change in its traditions, the Navy accepted the former. Lack of interest on the part of the black community was not a particularly pressing problem for the Navy in the immediate postwar years. Indeed, it might well have been a source of comfort for the military traditionalists who, armed with an unassailable integration policy, could still enjoy a Navy little changed from its prewar condition. Nevertheless, the lack of black volunteers for general service was soon to be discussed by a presidential commission, and in the next fifteen years would become a pressing problem when the Navy, the first service with a policy of integration, would find itself running behind in the race to attract minority members.

CHAPTER 10 (p. 253)

The Postwar Marine Corps

Unlike the Army and Navy, the all-white Marine Corps seemed to consider the wartime enlistment of over 19,000 Negroes a temporary aberration. Forced by the Navy's nondiscrimination policy to retain Negroes after the war, Marine Corps officials at first decided on a black representation of some 2,200 men, roughly the same proportion as during the war. But the old tradition of racial exclusion remained strong, and this figure was soon reduced. The corps also ignored the Navy's integration measures, adopting instead a pattern of segregation that Marine officials claimed was a variation on the Army's historic "separate but equal" black units. In fact, separation was real enough in the postwar corps; equality remained elusive.

Racial Quotas and Assignments

The problem was that any "separate but equal" race policy, no matter how loosely enforced, was incompatible with the corps' postwar manpower resources and mission and would conflict with its determination to restrict black units to a token number. The dramatic manpower reductions of 1946 were felt immediately in the two major elements of the Marine Corps. The Fleet Marine Force, the main operating unit of the corps and usually under control of the Chief of Naval Operations, retained three divisions, but lost a number of its combat battalions. The divisions kept a few organic and attached service and miscellaneous units. Under such severe manpower restrictions, planners could not reserve one of the large organic elements of these divisions for black marines, thus leaving the smaller attached and miscellaneous units as the only place to accommodate self-contained black organizations. At first the Plans and Policies Division decided to assign roughly half the black marines to the Fleet Marine Force. Of these some were slated for an antiaircraft artillery battalion at Montford Point which would provide training as well as an opportunity for Negroes' overseas to be rotated home. Others were placed in three combat service groups and one service depot where they would act as divisional service troops, and the rest went into 182 slots, later increased to 216, for stewards, the majority in aviation units.

Marine Artillery Team.
Men of the 51st Defense Battalion in training at Montford Point with 90-mm. antiaircraft gun.

The other half of the black marines was to be absorbed by the so called non-Fleet Marine Force, a term used to cover training, security, and miscellaneous Marine units, all noncombat, which normally remained under the control of the commandant. This part of the corps was composed of many small and usually self-contained units, but in a number of activities, particularly in the logistical establishment (p. 254) and the units afloat, reductions in manpower would necessitate considerable sharing of living and working facilities, thus making racial separation impossible. The planners decided, therefore, to limit black assignments outside the Fleet Marine Force to naval ammunition depots at McAlester, Oklahoma, and Earle, New Jersey, where Negroes would occupy separate barracks; to Guam and Saipan, principally as antiaircraft artillery; and to a small training cadre at Montford Point. Eighty stewards would also serve with units outside the Fleet Marine Force. With the exception of the depot at Earle, all these installations had been assigned Negroes during the war. Speaking in particular about the assignment of Negroes to McAlester, the Director of the Plans and Policies Division, Brig. Gen. Gerald C. Thomas, commented that "this has proven to be a satisfactory location and type of duty for these personnel."[10-1] Thomas's conception of "satisfactory" duty for Negroes became the corps' rationale for its postwar assignment policy.

To assign Negroes to unskilled jobs because they were accustomed to such duties and because the jobs were located in communities that would accept black marines might be satisfactory to Marine officials, but it was considered racist by many civil rights spokesmen and left the Marine Corps open to charges of discrimination. The policy of tying the number of Negroes to the number of available, appropriate slots also meant that the number of black marines, and consequently the acceptability of black volunteers, was subject to chronic fluctuation. More important, it permitted if not encouraged further restrictions on the use of the remaining black marines who had combat training, thereby allowing the traditionalists to press for a segregated service in which the few black marines would be mostly servants and laborers.

The process of reordering the assignment of black marines began just eleven weeks after the commandant approved the staff's postwar policy recommendations. Informing the commandant on 6 January 1947 that "several changes have been (p. 255) made in concepts upon which such planning was based," General Thomas explained that the requirement for antiaircraft artillery units at Guam and Saipan had been canceled, along with the plan for maintaining an artillery unit at Montford Point. Because of the cancellation his division wanted to reduce the number of black marines to 1,500. These men could be assigned to depot companies, service units, and Marine barracks—all outside the Fleet Marine Force—or they could serve as stewards. The commandant's approval of this plan reduced the number of Negroes in the corps by 35 percent, or 700 men. Coincidental with this reduction was a 17 percent rise in spaces for black stewards to 350.[10-2]

Approval of this plan eliminated the last Negroes from combat assignments, a fact that General Thomas suggested could be justified as "consistent with similar reductions being effected elsewhere in the Corps." But the facts did not support such a palliative. In June 1946 the corps had some 1,200 men serving in three antiaircraft artillery battalions and an antiaircraft artillery group headquarters. In June 1948 the corps still had white antiaircraft artillery units on Guam and at Camp Lejeune totaling 1,020 men. The drop in numbers was explained almost entirely by the elimination of the black units.[10-3]

A further realignment of black assignments occurred in June 1947 when General Vandegrift approved a Plans and Policies Division decision to remove more black units from security forces at naval shore establishments. The men were reassigned to Montford Point with the result that the number of black training and overhead billets at that post jumped 200 percent—a dubious decision at best considering that black specialist and recruit training was virtually at a standstill. General Thomas took the occasion to advise the commandant that maintaining an arbitrary quota of black marines was no longer a consideration since a reduction in their strength could be "adequately justified" by the general manpower reductions throughout the corps.[10-4]

Actually the Marine Corps was not as free to reduce the quota of 1,500 Negroes as General Thomas suggested. To make further cuts in what was at most a token representation, approximately 1 percent of the corps in August 1947, would further inflame civil rights critics and might well provoke a reaction from Secretary Forrestal. Even Thomas's accompanying recommendation carefully retained the black strength figure previously agreed upon and actually raised the number of Negroes in the ground forces by seventy-six men. The 1,500-man minimum quota for black enlistment survived the reorganization of the Fleet Marine Force later in 1947, and the Plans and Policies Division even found it necessary to locate some 375 more billets for Negroes to maintain the figure. In August the commandant approved plans to add 100 slots for stewards and 275 general duty billets overseas, the latter to facilitate rotation and provide a broader range of assignments for Negroes.[10-5] Only once before the Korean War, and (p. 256) then only briefly, did the authorized strength of Negroes drop below the 1,500 mark, although because of recruitment lags actual numbers never equaled authorized strength.[10-6]

By mid-1947, therefore, the Marine Corps had abandoned its complex system of gearing the number of black marines to available assignments and, like the Army and the Air Force, had adopted a racial quota—but with an important distinction. Although they rarely achieved it, the Army and the Air Force were committed to accepting a fixed percentage of Negroes; in an effort to avoid the problems with manpower efficiency plaguing the other services, the Marine Corps established a straight numerical quota. Authorized black strength would remain at about 1,500 men until the Korean War. During that same period the actual percentage of Negroes in the Marine Corps almost doubled, rising from 1.3 percent of the 155,679-man corps in June 1946 to slightly more than 2 percent of the 74,279-man total in June 1950.[10-7]

Yet neither the relatively small size of the Marine Corps nor the fact that few black marines were enrolled could conceal the inefficiency of segregation. Over the next three years the personnel planning staff tried to find a solution to the problem of what it considered to be too many Negroes in the general service. First it began to reduce gradually the number of black units accommodated in the Operating Force Plan, absorbing the excess black marines by increasing the number of stewards. This course was not without obvious public relations disadvantages, but they were offset somewhat by the fact that the Marine Corps, unlike the Navy, never employed a majority of its black recruits as stewards. In May 1948 the commandant approved new plans for a 10 percent decrease in the number of general duty assignments and a corresponding increase in spaces for stewards.[10-8] The trend away from assigning Negroes to general service duty continued until the Korean War, and in October 1949 a statistical high point was reached when some 33 percent of all black marines were serving as stewards. The doctrine that all marines were potential infantrymen stood, but it was small comfort to civil rights activists who feared that what at best was a nominal black representation in the corps was being pushed into the kitchen.

But they had little to fear since the number of Negroes that could be absorbed in the Steward's Branch was limited. In the end the Marine Corps still had to accommodate two-thirds of its black strength in general duty billets, a course with several unpalatable consequences. For one, Negroes would be assigned to new bases reluctant to accept them and near some communities where they would be unwelcome. For another, given the limitations in self-contained units, there was the possibility of introducing some integration in the men's living or working arrangements. Certainly black billets would have to be created at the expense of white billets. The Director of Plans and Policies warned in (p. 257) August 1947 that the reorganization of the Fleet Marine Force, then under way, failed to allocate spaces for some 350 Negroes with general duty contracts. While he anticipated some reduction in this number as a result of the campaign to attract volunteers for the Steward's Branch, he admitted that many would remain unassigned and beyond anticipating a reduction in the black "overage" through attrition, his office had no long-range plans for creating the needed spaces.[10-9] When the attrition failed to materialize, the commandant was forced in December 1949 to redesignate 202 white billets for black marines with general duty contracts.[10-10] The problem of finding restricted assignments for black marines in the general service lasted until it was overtaken by the manpower demands of the Korean War. Meanwhile to the consternation of the civil rights advocates, as the corps' definition of "suitable" assignment became more exact, the variety of duties to which Negroes could be assigned seemed to decrease.[10-11]


Postwar quotas and assignments for Negroes did nothing to curb the black community's growing impatience with separate and limited opportunities, a fact brought home to Marine Corps recruiters when they tried to enlist the Negroes needed to fill their quota. At first it seemed the traditionalists would regain their all-white corps by default. The Marine Corps had ceased drafting men in November 1945 and launched instead an intensive recruiting campaign for regular marines from among the thousands of reservists about to be discharged and regulars whose enlistments would soon expire. Included in this group were some 17,000 Negroes from among whom the corps planned to recruit its black contingent. To charges that it was discriminating in the enlistment of black civilians, the corps readily admitted that no new recruits were being accepted because preference was being given to men already in the corps.[10-12] In truth, the black reservists were rejecting the blandishments of recruiters in overwhelming numbers. By May 1946 only 522 Negroes, less than a quarter of the small postwar black complement, had enlisted in the regular service.

The failure to attract recruits was particularly noticeable in the antiaircraft battalions. To obtain black replacements for these critically depleted units, the commandant authorized the recruitment of reservists who had served less than six months, but the measure failed to produce the necessary manpower. On 28 February 1946 the commanding general of Camp Lejeune reported that all but seven Negroes on his antiaircraft artillery roster were being processed for discharge.[10-13] Since this list included the black noncommissioned instructors, the commander (p. 258) warned that future training of black marines would entail the use of officers as instructors. The precipitous loss of black artillerymen forced Marine headquarters to assign white specialists as temporary replacements in the heavy antiaircraft artillery groups at Guam and Saipan, both designated as black units in the postwar organization.[10-14]

It was not the fault of the black press if this expression of black indifference went unnoticed. The failure of black marines to reenlist was the subject of many newspaper and journal articles. The reason for the phenomenon advanced by the Norfolk Journal and Guide would be repeated by civil rights spokesmen on numerous occasions in the era before integration. The paper declared that veterans remembered their wartime experiences and were convinced that the same distasteful practices would be continued after the war.[10-15] Marine Corps officials advanced different reasons. The Montford Point commander attributed slow enlistment rates to a general postwar letdown and lack of publicity, explaining that Montford Point "had an excellent athletic program, good chow and comfortable barracks." A staff member of the Division of Plans and Policies later prepared a lengthy analysis of the treatment the Marine Corps had received in the black press. He charged that the press had presented a distorted picture of conditions faced by blacks that had "agitated" the men and turned them against reenlistment. He recommended a public relations campaign at Montford Point to improve the corps' image.[10-16] But this analysis missed the point, for while the black press might influence civilians, it could hardly instruct Marine veterans. Probably more than any other factor, the wartime treatment of black marines explained the failure of the corps to attract qualified, let alone gifted, Negroes to its postwar junior enlisted ranks.

Considering the critical shortages, temporarily and "undesirably" made up for by white marines, and the "leisurely" rate at which black reservists were reenlisting, General Thomas recommended in May 1946 that the corps recruit some 1,120 Negroes from civilian sources. This, he explained to the commandant, would accelerate black enlistment but still save some spaces for black reservists.[10-17] The commandant agreed,[10-18] and contrary to the staff's expectations, most Negroes in the postwar service were new recruits. The mass departure of World (p. 259) War II veterans eloquently expressed the attitude of experienced black servicemen toward the Marines' racial policy.

The word spread quickly among the new black marines. When in mid-1947 the Division of Plans and Policies was looking for ways to reduce the number of black marines in keeping with the modified manpower ceiling, it discovered that if offered the opportunity about one-third of all Negroes would apply for discharge. An even higher percentage of discharge requests was expected from among black marines overseas. The commandant agreed to make the offer, except to the stewards, and in the next six months black strength dropped by 700 men.[10-19]

Even the recruitment of stewards did not go according to predictions. Thomas had assured the commandant in the spring of 1946 that a concrete offer of steward duty to black reservists would produce the 300-man quota for the regular corps. He wanted the offer published at all separation centers and a training program for stewards instituted at Camp Lejeune.[10-20] General Vandegrift approved the proposal, but a month later the commander of Camp Lejeune reported that only three reservists and one regular had volunteered.[10-21] He advised the commandant to authorize recruitment among qualified civilians. Faced with wholesale rejection of such duty by black marines, General Thomas in March 1947 opened the Steward's Branch to Negroes with previous military service in any of the armed forces and qualifications for such work.[10-22] This ploy also proved a failure. Looking for 250 stewards, the recruiters could find but one acceptable applicant in the first weeks of the program. Retreating still further, the commandant canceled the requirement for previous military service in April, and in October dropped the requirement for "clearly established qualifications."[10-23] Apparently the staff would take a chance on any warm body.

In dropping the requirement for prior military service, the corps introduced a complication. Recruits for steward duty would be obliged to undergo basic training and their enlistment contracts would read "general duty"; Navy regulations required that subsequent reclassification to "stewards duty only" status had to be made at the request of the recruit. In August 1947 three men enlisted under the first enlistment program for stewards refused to execute a change of enlistment contract after basic training.[10-24] Although these men could have (p. 260) been discharged "for the good of the service," the commandant decided not to contest their right to remain in the general service. This action did not go unnoticed, and in subsequent months a number of men who signed up with the intention of becoming stewards refused to modify their enlistment contract while others, who already had changed their contract, suddenly began to fail the qualifying tests for stewards school.

The possibility of filling the quota became even more distant when in September 1947 the number of steward billets was increased to 380. Since only 57 stewards had signed up in the past twelve months, recruiters now had to find some 200 men, at least 44 per month for the immediate future. The commandant, furthermore, approved plans to increase the number of stewards to 420. In December the Plans and Policies Division, conceding defeat, recommended that the commandant arrange for the transfer of 175 men from the Navy's oversubscribed Steward's Branch. At the same time, to overcome what the division's new director, Brig. Gen. Ray A. Robinson, called "the onus attached to servant type duties," the commandant was induced to approve a plan making the rank and pay of stewards comparable to those of general duty personnel.[10-25]

These measures seemed to work. The success of the transfer program and the fact that first enlistments had finally begun to balance discharges led the recruiters to predict in March 1948 that their steward quota would soon be filled. Unfortunately, success tempted the planners to overreach themselves. Assured of a full steward quota, General Robinson recommended that approval be sought from the Secretary of the Navy to establish closed messes, along with the requisite steward billets, at the shore quarters for bachelor officers overseas.[10-26] Approval brought another rise in the number of steward billets, this time to 580, and required a first-enlistment goal of twenty men per month.[10-27] The new stewards, however, were not forthcoming. After three months of recruiting the corps had netted ten men, more than offset by trainees who failed to qualify for steward school. Concluding that the failures represented to a great extent a scheme to remain in general service and evade the ceiling on general enlistment, the planners wanted the men failing to qualify discharged "for the good of the service."[10-28]

The lack of recruits for steward duty and constant pressure by stewards for transfer to general duty troubled the Marine Corps throughout the postwar period. Reviewing the problem in December 1948, the commanding general of Camp (p. 261) Lejeune saw three causes: "agitation from civilian sources," which labeled steward duty degrading servant's work; lack of rapid promotion; and badgering from black marines on regular duty.[10-29] But the commander's solution—a public relations campaign using black recruits to promote the attractions of steward duty along with a belated promise of more rapid promotion—failed. It ignored the central issue, the existence of a segregated branch in which black marines performed menial, nonmilitary duties.

Headquarters later resorted to other expedients. It obtained seventy-five more men from the Navy and lowered the qualification test standards for steward duty. But like earlier efforts, these steps also failed to produce enough men.[10-30] Ironically, while the corps aroused the ire of the civil rights groups by maintaining a segregated servants' branch, it was never able to attract a sufficient number of stewards to fill its needs in the postwar period.

Many of the corps' critics saw in the buildup of the Steward's Branch the first step in an attempt to eliminate Negroes from the general service. If such a scheme had ever been contemplated, it was remarkably unsuccessful, for the corps would enter the Korean War with most of its Negroes still in the general service. Nevertheless, the apprehension of the civil rights advocates was understandable because during most of the postwar period enlistment in the general service was barred to Negroes or limited to a very small number of men. Closed to Negroes in early 1947, enlistment was briefly reopened at the rate of forty men per month later that year to provide the few hundred extra men called for in the reorganization of the Operating Force Plan.[10-31] Enlistment was again opened in May 1948 when the recruiting office established a monthly quota for black recruits at ten men for general duty and eight for the Steward's Branch. The figure for stewards quickly rose to thirty per month, but effective 1 May 1949 the recruitment of Negroes for general service was closed.[10-32]

These rapid changes, indeed the whole pattern of black enlistment in the postwar Marine Corps, demonstrated that the staff's manpower practices were out of joint with the times. Not only did they invite attack from the increasingly vocal civil rights forces, but they also fostered a general distrust among black marines themselves and among those young Negroes the corps hoped to attract.

Segregation and Efficiency

The assignment policies and recruitment practices of the corps were the inevitable result of its segregation policy. Prejudice and discrimination no doubt aggravated the situation, but the policy of separation limited the ways Negroes could (p. 262) be employed and places to which they might be assigned. Segregation explained, for example, why Negroes were traditionally employed in certain types of combat units, and why, when changing missions and manpower restrictions caused a reduction in the number of such units, Negroes were not given other combat assignments. Most Negroes with combat military occupational specialties served in defense battalions during World War II. These units, chiefly antiaircraft artillery, were self-contained and could therefore be segregated; at the same time they cloaked a large group of men with the dignity of a combat assignment. But what was possible during the war was no longer practical and efficient in the postwar period. Some antiaircraft artillery units survived the war, but they no longer operated as battalions and were divided instead into battery-size organizations that simply could not be segregated in terms of support and recreational facilities. In fact, the corps found it impossible after the war to maintain segregation in any kind of combat unit.

Even if segregated service had been possible, the formation of all-black antiaircraft artillery battalions would have been precluded by the need of this highly technical branch for so many kinds of trained specialists. Not only would separate training facilities for the few Negroes in the peacetime corps be impossibly expensive and inefficient, but not enough black recruits were eligible for such training. A wartime comparison of the General Classification Test and Mechanical Aptitude Test scores of the men in the 52d Defense Battalion with those of men in two comparable white units showed the Negroes averaging considerably lower than the whites.[10-33] It was reasonable to expect this difference to continue since, on the whole, black recruits were scoring lower than their World War II counterparts.[10-34] Under current policies, therefore, the Marine Corps saw little choice but to exclude Negroes from antiaircraft artillery and other combat units.

Obviously the corps had in its ranks some Negroes capable of performing any task required in an artillery battalion. Yet because the segregation policy demanded that there be enough qualified men to form and sustain a whole black battalion, the abilities of these high-scoring individuals were wasted. On the other hand, many billets in antiaircraft artillery or other types of combat battalions could be filled by men with low test scores, but less gifted black marines were excluded because they had to be assigned to one of the few black units. Segregation, in short, was doubly inefficient, it kept both able and inferior Negroes out of combat units that were perpetually short of men.

Segregation also promoted inefficiency in the placement of black Marine units. While the assignment of an integrated unit with a few black marines would probably go unnoticed in most naval districts—witness the experience of the (p. 263) Navy itself—the task of finding a naval district and an American community where a large segregated group of black marines could be peacefully assimilated was infinitely more difficult.

The original postwar racial program called for the assignment of black security units to the Marine Barracks at McAlester, Oklahoma, and Earle, New Jersey. Noting that the station was in a strict Jim Crow area where recreational facilities for Negroes were limited and distant, the commanding officer of the Marine Barracks at McAlester recommended that no Negroes be assigned. He reminded the commandant that guard duty required marines to question and apprehend white civilian employees, a fact that would add to the racial tension in the area. His conclusions, no doubt shared by commanders in many parts of the country, summed up the problem of finding assignments for black marines: any racial incident which might arise out of disregard for local racial custom, he wrote,

would cause the Marine Corps to become involved by protecting such personnel as required by Federal law and Navy Regulations. It is believed that if one such potential incident occurred, it would seriously jeopardize the standing of the Marine Corps throughout the Southwest. To my way of thinking, the Marine Corps is not now maintaining the high esteem of public opinion, or gaining in prestige, by the manner in which its uniform and insignia are subjected to such laws. The uniform does not count, it is relegated to the background and made to participate in and suffer the restrictions and limitations placed upon it by virtue of the wearer being subject to the Jim Crow laws.[10-35]

The commander of the McAlester ammunition depot endorsed this recommendation, adding that Oklahoma was a "border" state where the Negro was not accepted as in the north nor understood and tolerated as in the south. This argument moved the Director of Plans and Policies to recommend that McAlester be dropped and the black unit sent instead to Port Chicago, California.[10-36] With the approval of the commandant and the Chief of Naval Operations, plans for the assignment were well under way in June 1947 when the commandant of the Twelfth Naval District intervened.[10-37] The presence of a black unit, he declared, was undesirable in a predominantly white area that was experiencing almost constant labor turmoil. The possibility of clashes between white pickets and black guards would invite racial conflict. His warnings carried the day, and Port Chicago was dropped in favor of the Marine Barracks, Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York, with station at Bayonne, New Jersey. At the same time, because of opposition from naval officials, the plan for assigning Negroes to Earle, New Jersey, was also dropped, and the commandant launched inquiries (p. 264) about the depots at Hingham, Massachusetts, and Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania.[10-38]

Fort Mifflin agreed to take fifty black marines, but several officials objected to the proposed assignment to Hingham. The Marine commander, offering what he called his unbiased opinion in the best interests of the service, explained in considerable detail why he thought the assignment of Negroes would jeopardize the fire-fighting ability of the ammunition depot. The commanding officer of the naval depot endorsed these reasons and added that assigning black marines to guard duty that included vehicle search would create a problem in industrial relations.[10-39] The commandant of the First Naval District apparently discounted these arguments, but he too voted against the assignment of Negroes on the grounds that the Hingham area lacked a substantial black population, was largely composed of restricted residential neighborhoods, and was a major summer resort on which the presence of black units would have an adverse effect.[10-40]

The commander of the Naval Base, New York, meanwhile had refused to approve a plan to assign a black unit to Bayonne, New Jersey, and suggested that it be sent to Earle, New Jersey, instead because there the unit "presented fewer problems and difficulties than at any other Naval activity." The commander noted that stationing Negroes at Bayonne would necessitate a certain amount of integration in mess and ship service facilities. Bayonne was also reputed to have the toughest gate duty in the New York area, and noncommissioned officers had to supervise a white civilian police force. At Earle, on the other hand, the facilities were completely separate, and although some complaints from well-to-do summer colonists in the vicinity could be expected, men could be bused to Newark or Jersey City for recreation. Moreover, Earle could absorb a 175-man unit.[10-41] But chief of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance wanted to retain white marines at Earle because a recent decision to handle ammonium nitrate fertilizer there made it unwise to relieve the existing trained detachment. Earle was also using contract stevedores and expected to be using Army troops whose use of local facilities would preclude plans for a segregated barracks and mess.[10-42]

The commandant accepted these arguments and on 20 August 1947 revoked the assignment of a black unit to Earle. Still, with its ability to absorb 175 men and (p. 265) its relative suitability in terms of separate living facilities, the depot remained a prime candidate for black units, and in November General Vandegrift reversed himself. The Chief of Naval Operations supported the commandant's decision over the renewed objections of the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance.[10-43] With Hingham, Massachusetts, ruled out, the commandant now considered the substitution of Marine barracks at Trinidad, British West Indies; Scotia, New York; and Oahu, Hawaii. He rejected Trinidad in favor of Oahu, and officials in Hawaii proved amenable.[10-44]

The chief of the Navy's Bureau of Supplies and Accounts objected to the use of black marines at the supply depot in Scotia, claiming that such an assignment to the Navy's sole installation in upper New York State would bring about a "weakening of the local public relations advantage now held by the Navy" and would be contrary to the Navy's best interests. He pointed out that the assignment would necessitate billeting white marine graves registration escorts and black marines in the same squad rooms. The use of black marines for firing squads at funerals, he thought, would be "undesirable." He also pointed out that the local black population was small, making for extremely limited recreational and social opportunities.[10-45] The idea of using Scotia with all these attendant inconveniences was quietly dropped, and the black marines were finally assigned to Earle, New Jersey; Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania; and Oahu, Hawaii.

Approved on 8 November 1946, the postwar plan to assign black units to security guard assignments in the United States was not fully put into practice until 15 August 1948, almost two years later. This episode in the history of discrimination against Americans in uniform brought little glory to anyone involved and revealed much about the extent of race prejudice in American society. It was an indictment of people in areas as geographically diverse as Oklahoma, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey who objected to the assignment of black servicemen to their communities. It was also an indictment of a great many individual commanders, both in the Navy and Marine Corps, some perhaps for personal prejudices, others for so readily bowing to community prejudices. But most of all the blame must fall on the Marine Corps' policy of segregation. Segregation made it necessary to find assignments for a whole enlisted complement and placed an intolerable administrative burden on the corps. The dictum that black marines could not deal with white civilians, especially in situations in which they would give orders, further limited assignments since such duties were routine in any security unit. Thus, bound to a policy that was neither just nor practical, the commandant spent almost two years trying to place four hundred men.

Despite (p. 266) the obvious inefficiency and discrimination involved, the commandant, General Vandegrift, adamantly defended the Marine segregation policy before Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. Wartime experience showed, he maintained, oblivious to overwhelming evidence to the contrary since 1943, "that the assignment of negro Marines to separate units promotes harmony and morale and fosters the competitive spirit essential to the development of a high esprit."[10-46] His stand was bound to antagonize the civil rights camp; the black press in particular trumpeted the theme that the corps was as full of race discrimination as it had been during the war.[10-47]

Toward Integration

But even as the commandant defended the segregation policy, the corps was beginning to yield to pressure from outside forces and the demands of military efficiency. The first policy breach concerned black officers. Although a proposal for commissions had been rejected when the subject was first raised in 1944, three black candidates were accepted by the officer training school at Quantico in April 1945. One failed to qualify on physical and two on scholastic grounds, but they were followed by five other Negroes who were still in training on V-J day. One of this group, Frederick Branch of Charlotte, North Carolina, elected to stay in training through the demobilization period. He was commissioned with his classmates on 10 November 1945 and placed in the inactive reserves. Meanwhile, three Negroes in the V-12 program graduated and received commissions as second lieutenants in the inactive Marine Corps Reserve. Officer training for all these men was integrated.[10-48]

Lieutenant and Mrs. Branch

Lieutenant and Mrs. Branch

The first Negro to obtain a regular commission in the Marine Corps was John E. Rudder of Paducah, Kentucky, a Marine veteran and graduate of the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Analyzing the case for the commandant in May 1948, the Director of Plans and Policies noted that the law did not require the Marine Corps to commission Rudder, but that he was only the first of several Negroes who would be applying for commissions in the next few years through the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Since the reserve corps program was a vital part of the plan to expand Marine Corps officer strength, rejecting a graduate on account of race, General Robinson warned, might jeopardize the entire plan. He thought that Rudder should be accepted for duty. Rudder was appointed a second lieutenant in the Regular Marine Corps on 28 May 1948 and ordered to Quantico for basic schooling.[10-49] In 1949 Lieutenant Rudder resigned. Indicative of the changing civil rights scene was the apprehension shown by some Marine Corps officials about public reaction to the resignation. But although Rudder reported instances of discrimination at Quantico—stemming for (p. 267) the most part from a lack of military courtesy that amounted to outright ostracism—he insisted his decision to resign was based on personal reasons and was irreversible. The Director of Public Information was anxious to release an official version of the resignation,[10-50] but other voices prevailed, and Rudder's exit from the corps was handled quietly both at headquarters and in the press.[10-51]

The brief active career of one black officer was hardly evidence of a great racial reform, but it represented a significant breakthrough because it affirmed the practice of integrated officer training and established the right of Negroes to command. And Rudder was quickly followed by other black officer candidates, some of whom made careers in the corps. Rudder's appointment marked a permanent change in Marine Corps policy.

Enlistment of black women marked another change. Negroes had been excluded from the Women's Reserve during World War II, but in March 1949 A. Philip Randolph asked the commandant, in the name of the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training, if black women could join the corps. The commandant's reply was short and direct: "If qualified for enlistment, negro women will be accepted on the same basis as other applicants."[10-52] In September 1949 Annie N. Graham and Ann E. Lamb reported to Parris Island for integrated training and subsequent assignment.

Yet another racial change, in the active Marine Corps Reserve, could be traced to outside pressure. Until 1947 all black reservists were assigned to inactive and unpaid volunteer reserve status, and applications for transfer to active units were usually disapproved by commanding officers on grounds that such transfers would cost the unit a loss in whites. Rejections did not halt applications, however, and in May 1947 the Director of Marine Corps Reserve decided to seek a policy decision. While he wanted each commander of an active unit left free to decide whether he would take Negroes, the director also wanted units with black enlisted men formed in the organized reserve, all-black voluntary training units recognized, and integrated active duty training provided for reservists.[10-53] A (p. 268) group of Negroes in Chicago had already applied for the formation of a black voluntary training unit.

General Thomas, Director of Plans and Policies, was not prepared to go the whole way. He agreed that within certain limitations the local commander should decide on the integration of black reservists into an active unit, and he accepted integrated active duty training. But he rejected the formation of black units in the organized reserve and the voluntary training program; the latter because it would "inevitably lead to the necessity for Negro officers and for authorizing drill pay" in order to avoid charges of discrimination. Although Thomas failed to explain why black officers and drill pay were unacceptable or how rejecting the program would save the corps from charges of discrimination, his recommendations were approved by the commandant over the objection of the Reserve Division.[10-54] But the Director of Reserves rejoined that volunteer training units were organized under corps regulations, the Chicago group had met all the specifications, and the corps would be subject to just criticism if it refused to form the unit. On the other hand, by permitting the formation of some all-black volunteer units, the corps might satisfy the wish of Negroes to be a part of the reserve and thus avoid any concerted attempt to get the corps to form all-black units in the organized reserve.[10-55]

At this point the Division of Plans and Policies offered to compromise. General Robinson recommended that when the number of volunteers so warranted, the corps should form black units of company size or greater, either separate or organic to larger reserve units around the country. He remained opposed to integrated units, explaining that experience proved—he neglected to mention what experience, certainly none in the Marine Corps—that integrated units served neither the best interests of the individual nor the corps.[10-56] While the commandant's subsequent approval set the stage for the formation of racially composite units in the reserve, the stipulation that the black element be of company size or larger effectively limited the degree of reform.

Training Exercises

Training Exercises.
Black Marine unit boards ship at Morehead City, North Carolina, 1949.

The development of composite units in the reserve paralleled a far more significant development in the active forces. In 1947 the Marine Corps began organizing such units along the lines established in the postwar Army. Like the Army, the corps discovered that maintaining a quota—even when the quota for the corps meant maintaining a minimum number of Negroes in the service—in a period of shrinking manpower resources necessitated the creation of new billets for Negroes. At the same time it was obviously inefficient to assign combat-trained Negroes, now surplus with the inactivation of the black defense battalions, to black service and supply units when the Fleet Marine Force battalions were so seriously understrength. Thus the strictures against integration notwithstanding, (p. 269) the corps was forced to begin attaching black units to the depleted Fleet Marine Force units. In January 1947, for example, members of Headquarters Unit, Montford Point Camp, and men of the inactivated 3d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion were transferred to Camp Geiger, North Carolina, and assigned to the all-black 2d Medium Depot Company, which, along with eight white units, was organized into the racially composite 2d Combat Service Group in the 2d Marine Division.[10-57] Although the units of the group ate in separate mess halls and slept in separate barracks, inevitably the men of all units used some facilities in common. After Negroes were assigned to Camp Geiger, for instance, recreational facilities were open to all. In some isolated cases, black noncommissioned officers were assigned to lead racially mixed details in the composite group.[10-58]

But these reforms, which did very little for a very few men, scarcely dented the Marine Corps' racial policy. Corps officials were still firmly committed to strict segregation in 1948, and change seemed very distant. Any substantial modification in racial policy would require a revolution against Marine tradition, a movement dictated by higher civilian authority or touched off by an overwhelming military need.

CHAPTER 11 (p. 270)

The Postwar Air Force

The Air Force was a new service in 1947, but it was also heir to a long tradition of segregation. Most of its senior officers, trained in the Army, firmly supported the Army's policy of racially separate units and racial quotas. And despite continuing objections to what many saw as the Gillem Board's far too progressive proposals, the Air Force adopted the Army's postwar racial policy as its own. Yet after less than two years as an independent service the Air Force in late 1948 stood on the threshold of integration.

This sudden change in attitude was not so much the result of humanitarian promptings by service officials, although some of them forcibly demanded equal treatment and opportunity. Nor was it a response to civil rights activists, although Negroes in and outside the Air Force continued to exert pressure for change. Rather, integration was forced upon the service when the inefficiency of its racial practices could no longer be ignored. The inefficiency of segregated troops was less noticeable in the Army, where a vast number of Negroes could serve in a variety of expandable black units, and in the smaller Navy, where only a few Negroes had specialist ratings and most black sailors were in the separate Steward's Branch. But the inefficiency of separatism was plainly evident in the Air Force.

Like the Army, the Air Force had its share of service units to absorb the marginal black airman, but postwar budget restrictions had made the enlargement of service units difficult to justify. At the same time, the Gillem Board policy as well as outside pressures had made it necessary to include a black air unit in the service's limited number of postwar air wings. However socially desirable two air forces might seem to most officials, and however easy it had been to defend them as a wartime necessity, it quickly became apparent that segregation was, organizationally at least, a waste of the Air Force's few black pilots and specialists and its relatively large supply of unskilled black recruits. Thus, the inclination to integrate was mostly pragmatic; notably absent were the idealistic overtones sounded by the Navy's Special Programs Unit during the war. Considering the magnitude of the Air Force problem, it was probably just as well that efficiency rather than idealism became the keynote of change. On a percentage basis the Air Force had almost as many Negroes as the Army and, no doubt, a comparable level of prejudice among its commanders and men. At the same time, the Air Force was a new service, its organization still fluid and its policies subject to rapid modification. In such circumstances a straightforward appeal to efficiency had a chance to succeed where an idealistic call for justice and fair play might well have floundered.

Segregation and Efficiency (p. 271)

Many officials in the Army Air Forces had defended segregated units during the war as an efficient method of avoiding dangerous social conflicts and utilizing low-scoring recruits.[11-1] General Arnold himself repeatedly warned against bringing black officers and white enlisted men together. Unless strict unit segregation was imposed, such contacts would be inevitable, given the Air Forces' highly mobile training and operations structure.[11-2] But if segregation restricted contacts between the races it also imposed a severe administrative burden on the wartime Air Forces. It especially affected the black flying units because it ordained that not only pilots but the ground support specialists—mechanics, supply clerks, armorers—had to be black. Throughout most of the war the Air Forces, competing with the rest of the Army for skilled and high-scoring Negroes, was unable to fill the needs of its black air units. At a time when the Air Forces enjoyed a surplus of white air and ground crews, the black fighter units suffered from a shortage of replacements for their combat veterans, a situation as inefficient as it was damaging to morale.[11-3]

The shortage was compounded in the penultimate year of the war when the all-black 477th Bombardment Group was organized. (Black airmen and civil rights spokesmen complained that restricting Negroes to fighter units excluded them from many important and prestigious types of air service.) In the end the new bombardment group only served to limit black participation in the air war. Already short of black pilots, the Army Air Forces now had to find black navigators and bombardiers as well, thereby intensifying the competition for qualified black cadets. The stipulation that pilots and bombardiers for the new unit be trained at segregated Tuskegee was another obvious cause for the repeated delays in the operational date of the 477th, and its crews were finally assembled only weeks before the end of the war. Competition for black bomber crews also led to a ludicrous situation in which men highly qualified for pilot training according to their stanine scores (achievements on the battery of qualifying tests taken by all applicants for flight service) were sent instead to navigator-bomber training, for which they were only barely qualified.[11-4]

Unable to obtain enough Negroes qualified for flight training, the Army Air Forces asked the Ground and Service Forces to screen their personnel for suitable candidates, but a screening early in 1945 produced only about one-sixth of the men needed. Finally, the Air Forces recommended that the Army staff lower the General Classification Test score for pilot training from 110 to 100, a recommendation the Service and Ground Forces opposed because such a move would eventually (p. 272) mean the mass transfer of high-scoring Negroes to the Air Forces, thus depriving the Service and Ground Forces of their proportionate share. Although the Secretary of War approved the Air Forces proposal, the change came too late to affect the shortage of black pilots and specialists before the end of the war.

Damage Inspection

Damage Inspection.
A squadron operations officer of the 332d Fighter Group points out a cannon hole to ground crew, Italy, 1945.

While short of skilled Negroes, the Army Air Forces was being inundated with thousands of undereducated and unskilled Negroes from Selective Service. It tried to absorb these recruits, as it absorbed some of its white draftees, by creating a great number of service and base security battalions. A handy solution to the wartime quota problem, the large segregated units eventually caused considerable racial tension. Some of the tension might have been avoided had black officers commanded black squadrons, a logical course since the Air Force had a large surplus of nonrated black officers stationed at Tuskegee.[11-5] Most were without permanent assignment or were assigned such duties as custodial responsibility for bachelor officer quarters, occupations unrelated to their specialties.[11-6]

Few of these idle black officers commanded black service units because the units were scattered worldwide while the nonrated officers were almost always assigned to the airfield at Tuskegee. Approximately one-third of the Air Forces' 1,559 black officers were stationed at Tuskegee in June 1945. Most others were assigned to the fighter group in the Mediterranean theater or the new bombardment group in flight training at Godman Field, Kentucky. Only twenty-five (p. 273) black officers were serving at other stations in the United States. The Second, Third, and Fourth Air Forces and I Troop Carrier Command, for example, had a combined total of seventeen black officers as against 22,938 black enlisted men.[11-7] Col. Noel F. Parrish, the wartime commander at Tuskegee, explained that the principal reason for this restriction was the prevailing fear of social conflict. If assigned to other bases, black officers might try to use the officers' clubs and other base facilities. Thus, despite the surplus of black officers only too evident at Tuskegee, their requests for transfer to other bases for assignment in their rating were usually denied on the grounds that the overall shortage of black officers made their replacement impossible.[11-8]

Fearing trouble between black and white officers and assuming that black airmen preferred white officers, the Air Forces assigned white officers to command black squadrons. Actually, such assignments courted morale problems and worse because they were extremely unpopular with both officers and men. Moreover, the Air Forces eventually had to admit that there was a tendency to assign white officers "of mediocre caliber" to black squadrons.[11-9] Yet few assignments demanded greater leadership ability, for these officers were burdened not only with the usual problems of a unit commander but also with the complexities of race relations. If they disparaged their troops, they failed as commanders; if they fought for their men, they were dismissed by their superiors as "pro-Negro." Consequently, they were generally a harassed and bewildered lot, bitter over their assignments and bad for troop morale.[11-10]

The social problems predicted for integration proved inevitable under segregation. Commanders found it prohibitively expensive to provide separate but equal facilities, and without them discrimination became more obvious. The walk-in protest at the Freeman Field Officers Club was but one of the natural consequences of segregation rules. And such demonstrations were only the more spectacular problems. Just as time-consuming and perhaps more of a burden were the many administrative difficulties. The Air Transport Command admitted in 1946 that it was too expensive to maintain, as the command was obligated to do, separate and equal housing and messing, including separate orderly and day rooms for black airmen. At the same time it complained of the disproportionately high percentage of black troops violating military and civil law. Although Negroes accounted for 20 percent of the command's troops, they committed more than 50 percent of its law infractions. The only connection the command was able to make between the separate, unequal facilities and the high misconduct rate was to point out that, while it had done its best to provide for Negroes, they "had not earned a very enviable record by themselves."[11-11]

Colonel Parrish

Colonel Parrish
(1946 photograph).

In (p. 274) one crucial five-month period of the war, Army Air Forces headquarters processed twenty-two separate staff actions involving black troops.[11-12] To avoid the supposed danger of large-scale social integration, the Air Forces, like the rest of the Army during World War II, had been profligate in its use of material resources, inefficient in its use of men, and destructive of the morale of black troops.

The Air staff was not oblivious to these facts and made some adjustments in policy as the war progressed. Notably, it rejected separate training of nonrated black officers and provided for integrated training of black navigators and bombardiers. In the last days of the war General Arnold ordered his commanders to "take affirmative action to insure that equity in training and assignment opportunity is provided all personnel."[11-13] And when it came to postwar planning, the Air staff demonstrated it had learned much from wartime experience:

The degree to which negroes can be successfully employed in the Post-War Military Establishment largely depends on the success of the Army in maintaining at a minimum the feeling of discrimination and unfair treatment which basically are the causes for irritation and disorders ... in the event of a future emergency the arms will employ a large number of negroes and their contribution in such an emergency will largely depend on the training, treatment and intelligent use of negroes during the intervening years.[11-14]

But while admitting that discrimination was at the heart of its racial problem, the Air staff failed to see the connection between discrimination and segregation. Instead it adopted the recommendations of its senior commanders. The consensus was that black combat (flying) units had performed "more or less creditably," but required more training than white units, and that the ground echelon and combat support units had performed below average. Rather than abolish these below average units, however, commanders wanted them preserved and wanted postwar policy to strengthen segregation. The final recommendation of the Army Air Forces to the Gillem Board was that blacks be trained according to the same standards as whites but that they be employed in separate units and segregated for recreation, messing, and social activities "on the (p. 275) post as well as off," in keeping with prevailing customs in the surrounding civilian community.[11-15]

The Army Air Forces' postwar use of black troops was fairly consonant with the major provisions of the Gillem Board Report. To reduce black combat units in proportion to the reduction of its white units, it converted the 477th Bombardment Group (M) into the 477th Composite Group. This group, under the command of the Army's senior black pilot, Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., included a fighter, a bombardment, and a service squadron. To provide segregated duty for its black specialists, the Army Air Forces organized regular black squadrons, mostly ammunition, motor transport, and engineer throughout its commands. To absorb the large number of unskilled Negroes, it organized one black squadron (Squadron F) in each of the ninety-seven base units in its worldwide base system to perform laboring and housekeeping chores. Finally, it promised "to the fullest possible extent" to assign Negroes with specialized skills and qualifications to overhead and special units.[11-16]

In the summer of 1947, the Army Air Forces integrated aviation training at Randolph Field, Texas, and quietly closed Tuskegee airfield, thus ending the last segregated officer training in the armed forces. The move was unrelated to the Gillem Board Report or to the demands of civil rights advocates. The Tuskegee operation had simply become impractical. In the severe postwar retrenchment of the armed forces, Tuskegee's cadet enrollment had dropped sharply, only nine men graduated in the October 1945 class.[11-17] To the general satisfaction of the black community, the few black cadets shared both quarters and classes with white students.[11-18] Nine black cadets were in training at the end of 1947.[11-19]

Another postwar reduction was not so advantageous for Negroes. By February 1946 the 477th Composite Group had been reduced to sixteen B-25 bombers, twelve P-47 fighter-bombers, and only 746 men—a 40 percent drop in four months.[11-20] Although the Tactical Air Command rated the unit's postwar training and performance satisfactory, and its transfer to the more hospitable surroundings and finer facilities of Lockbourne Field, Ohio, raised morale, the 477th, like other understaffed and underequipped organizations, faced inevitable conversion to specialized service. In July 1947 the 477th was inactivated and replaced by the 332d Fighter Group composed of the 99th, 100th, and 301st Fighter Squadrons. Black bomber pilots were converted to fighter pilots, and the bomber crews were removed from flying status.

Officers' Softball Team

Officers' Softball Team
representing the 477th Composite Group, Godwin Field, Kentucky.

These (p. 276) changes flew in the face of the Gillem Board Report, for however slightly that document may have changed the Army's segregation policy, it did demand at least a modest response to the call for equal opportunity in training, assignment, and advancement. The board clearly looked to the command of black units by qualified black officers and the training of black airmen to serve as a cadre for any necessary expansion of black units in wartime. Certainly the conversion of black bomber pilots to fighters did not meet these modest demands. In its defense the Army Air Forces in effect pleaded that there were too many Negroes for its present force, now severely reduced in size and lacking planes and other equipment, and too many of the black troops lacked education for the variety of assignments recommended by the board.

The Army Air Forces seemed to have a point, for in the immediate postwar period its percentage of black airmen had risen dramatically. It was drafting men to replace departing veterans, and in 1946 it was taking anyone who qualified, including many Negroes. In seven months the air arm lost over half its black strength, going from a wartime high of 80,606 on 31 August 1945 to 38,911 on 31 March 1946, but in the same period the black percentage almost doubled, climbing from 4.2 to 7.92.[11-21] The War Department predicted that all combat arms would have a black strength of 15 percent by 1 July 1946.[11-22]

This prophecy never materialized in the Air Forces. Changes in enlistment standards, curtailment of overseas assignments for Negroes, and, finally, suspension of all black enlistments in the Regular Army except in certain military specialist occupations turned the percentage of Negroes downward. By the (p. 277) fall of 1947, when the Air Force became a separate service,[11-23] the proportion of black airmen had leveled off at nearly 7 percent. Nor did the proportion of Negroes ever exceed the Gillem Board's 10 percent quota during the next decade.

The Air Force seemed on safer ground when it pleaded that it lacked the black airmen with skills to carry out the variety of assignments called for by the Gillem Board. The Air Force was finding it impossible to organize effective black units in appreciable numbers; even some units already in existence were as much as two-thirds below authorized strength in certain ground specialist slots.[11-24] Yet here too the statistics do not reveal the whole truth. Despite a general shortage of Negroes in the high test score categories, the Air Force did have black enlisted men qualified for general assignment as specialists or at least eligible for specialist training, who were instead assigned to labor squadrons.[11-25] In its effort to reduce the number of Negroes, the service had also relieved from active duty other black specialists trained in much needed skills. Finally, the Air Force still had a surplus of black specialists in some categories at Lockbourne Field who were not assigned to the below-strength units.

Again it was not too many black enlisted men or too few black officers or specialists but the policy of strict segregation that kept the Air Force from using black troops efficiently. Insistence on segregation, not the number of Negroes, caused maldistribution among the commands. In 1947, for example, the Tactical Air Command contained some 5,000 black airmen, close to 28 percent of the command's strength. This situation came about because the command counted among its units the one black air group and many of the black service units whose members in an integrated service would have been distributed throughout all the commands according to needs and abilities. The Air Force segregation policy restricted all but forty-five of the black officers in the continental United States to one base,[11-26] just as it was the Air Force's attempt to avoid integration that kept black officers from command. In November 1947, 1,581 black enlisted men and only two black officers were stationed at MacDill Field; at San Antonio there were 3,450 black airmen and again two black officers. These figures provide some clue to the cause of the riot involving black airmen at MacDill Field on 27 October 1946.[11-27]

Segregation also prevented the use of Negroes on a broader professional scale. In April 1948, 84.2 percent of Negroes in the Air Force were working in an occupational (p. 278) specialty as against 92.7 percent of whites, but the number of Negroes in radar, aviation specialist, wire communications, and other highly specialized skills required to support a tactical air unit was small and far below the percentage of whites. The Air Force argued that since Negroes were assigned to black units and since there was only one black tactical unit, there was little need for Negroes with these special skills.

Checking Ammunition

Checking Ammunition.
An armorer in the 332d Fighter Group inspects the P-51 Mustang, Italy, 1945.

The fact that rated black officers and specialists were restricted to one black fighter group particularly concerned civil rights advocates. Without bomber, transport, ferrying, or weather observation assignments, black officers qualified for larger aircraft had no chance to diversify their careers. It was essentially the same story for black airmen. Without more varied and large black combat units the Air Force had no need to assign many black airmen to specialist training. In December 1947, for example, only 80 of approximately 26,000 black airmen were attending specialist schools.[11-28] When asked about the absence of Negroes in large aircraft, especially bombers, Air Force spokesmen cited the conversion of the 477th Composite Group, which contained the only black bomber unit, to a specialized fighter group as merely part of a general reorganization to meet the needs (p. 279) of a 55-wing organization.[11-29] That the one black bomber unit happened to be organized out of existence was pure accident.

The Gillem Board had sought to expand the training and placement of skilled Negroes by going outside the regular black units and giving them overhead assignments. After the war some base commanders made such assignments unofficially, taking advantage of the abilities of airmen in the overmanned, all-black Squadron F's and assigning them to skilled duties. In one instance the base commander's secretary was a member of his black unit; in another, black mechanics from Squadron F worked on the flight line with white mechanics. But whatever their work, these men remained members of Squadron F, and often the whole black squadron, rather than individual airmen, found itself functioning as an overhead unit, contrary to the intent of the Gillem Board. Even the few Negroes formally trained in a specialty and placed in an integrated overhead unit did not approximate the Gillem Board's intention of training a cadre that would be readily expandable in an emergency.

The alternative to expanded overhead assignments was continuation of segregated service units and Squadron F's, but, as some manpower experts pointed out, many special purpose units suitable for unskilled airmen were disappearing from the postwar Air Force. Experience gained through the assignment of large numbers of marginal men to such units in peacetime would be of questionable value during large-scale mobilization.[11-30] As Colonel Parrish, the wartime commander of training at Tuskegee, warned, a peacetime policy incapable of wartime application was not only unrealistic, but dangerous.[11-31]

The Air staff tried to carry out the Gillem Board's suggestion that Negroes be stationed "where attitudes are most favorable for them insofar as military factors permit," but even here the service lagged behind civilian practice. When Marcus H. Ray arrived at Wright Field, Ohio, for a two-day inspection tour in July 1946, he found almost 3,000 black civilians working peacefully and effectively alongside 18,000 white civilians, all assigned to their jobs without regard to race. "I would rate this installation," Ray reported, "as the best example of efficient utilization of manpower I have seen." He went on to explain: "The integration has been accomplished without publicity and simply by assigning workers according to their capabilities and without regard to race, creed, or color." But Ray also noted that there were no black military men on the base.[11-32] Assistant Secretary of War Petersen was impressed. "In view of the fact that the racial climate seems exceptionally favorable at Wright Field," he wrote General Carl Spaatz, "consideration should be given to the employment of carefully selected Negro military personnel with specialist ratings for work in that installation."[11-33]

The (p. 280) Air Force complied. In the fall of 1946 it was forming black units for assignment to Air Materiel Command Stations, and it planned to move a black unit to Wright Field in the near future.[11-34] In assigning an all-black unit to Wright, however, the Air Force was introducing segregation where none had existed before, and here as in other areas its actions belied the expressed intent of the Gillem Board policy.

Impulse for Change

The problems associated with efficient use of black airmen intensified when the Air Force became an independent service in 1947. The number of Negroes fluctuated during the transition from Army Air Forces to Air Force, and as late as April 1948 the Army still retained a number of specialized black units whose members had the right to transfer to the Air Force. Estimates were that some 5,400 black airmen would eventually enter the Air Force from this source. Air Force officials believed that when these men were added to the 26,507 Negroes already in the new service, including 118 rated and 127 nonrated male officers and 4 female officers, the total would exceed the 10 percent quota suggested by the Gillem Board. Accordingly, soon after it became an independent service, the Air Force set the number of black enlistments at 300 per month until the necessary adjustments to the transfer program could be made.[11-35]

In addition to the chronic problems associated with black enlistments and quotas, four very specific problems demonstrated clearly to Air Force officials the urgent need for a change in race policy. The first of these was the distribution of black airmen which threatened the operational efficiency of the Tactical Air Command. A second, related to the first, revolved around the personnel shortages in black tactical units that necessitated an immediate reorganization of those units, a reorganization both controversial and managerially inefficient. The third and fourth problems were related; the demands of black leaders for a broader use of black servicemen suddenly intensified, dovetailing with the personal inclinations of the Secretary of the Air Force, who was making the strict segregation of black officers and specialists increasingly untenable. These four factors coalesced during 1948 and led to a reassessment of policy and, finally, to a volte-face.

Squadron F, 318th AAF Battalion

Squadron F, 318th AAF Battalion,
in review, Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio, 1947.

Limiting black enlistment to 300 per month did little to ease the situation in the Tactical Air Command. There, the percentage of black personnel, although down from its postwar high of 28 percent to 15.4 percent by the end of 1947, remained several points above the Gillem Board's 10 percent quota throughout 1948. In March 1948 the command's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Col. John E. Barr, found that the large number of Negroes gave the command a surplus (p. 281) of "marginal individuals," men who could not be trained economically for the various skills needed. He argued that this theoretical surplus of Negroes was "potentially parasitic" and threatened the command's mission.[11-36]

At the same time, the command's personnel director found that Negroes were being inefficiently used. With one squadron designated for their black airmen, most commanders deemed surplus any Negroes in excess of the needs of that squadron and made little attempt to use them effectively. Even when some of these men were given a chance at skilled jobs in the Tactical Air Command their assignments proved short-lived. Because of a shortage of white airmen at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, in early 1948, for example, Negroes from the base's Squadron F were assigned to fill all the slots in Squadron C, the base fire department. The Negroes performed so creditably that when enough white airmen to man Squadron C became available the commander suggested that the black fire fighters be transferred to Lockbourne rather than returned to their menial assignments.[11-37] The advantage of leaving the all-black Squadron C at Shaw was apparently overlooked by everyone.

Even this limited chance at occupational preferment was exceptional for black airmen in the Tactical Air Command. The command's personnel staff admitted that many highly skilled black technicians were performing menial tasks and that measures taken to raise the performance levels of other black airmen through training were inadequate. The staff also concluded that actions designed by the command to raise morale among black airmen left much to be desired. It mentioned specifically the excessively high turnover of officers assigned to black units, officers who for the most part proved mediocre as leaders. Most devastating of all, the study admitted that promotions and other rewards for duties performed by black airmen were not commensurate with those received by whites.[11-38]

Colonel (p. 282) Barr offered a solution that echoed the plea of Air Force commanders everywhere: revise Circular 124 to allow his organization to reduce the percentage of Negroes. Among a number of "compromise solutions" he recommended raising enlistment standards to reduce the number of submarginal airmen; designating Squadron E, the transportation squadron of the combat wings, a black unit; assigning all skilled black technicians to Lockbourne or declaring them surplus to the command; and selecting only outstanding officers to command black units.

One of these recommendations was under fire in Colonel Barr's own command. All-black transportation squadrons had already been discussed in the Ninth Air Force and had brought an immediate objection from Maj. Gen. William D. Old, its commander. Old explained that few black airmen in his command were qualified for "higher echelon maintenance activities," that is, major motor and transmission overhaul, and he had no black officers qualified to command such troops. On-the-job training would be impossible during total conversion of the squadrons from white to black; formal schooling for whole squadrons would have to be organized. Besides, Old continued, making transportation squadrons all black would only aggravate the command's race problems, for it would result in a further deviation from the "desired ratio of one to ten." Old wanted to reduce the number of black airmen in the Ninth Air Force by 1,633 men. The loss would not materially affect the efficiency of his command, he concluded. It would leave the Ninth Air Force with a ratio of one black officer to ten white and one black airman to eight white, and still permit the manning of black tactical units at full strength.[11-39] In the end none of these recommendations was followed. They needed the approval of Air Force headquarters, and as Lt. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada, commander of the Tactical Air Command, explained to General Old, the headquarters was in the midst of a lengthy review of Circular 124. In the meantime the command would have to carry on without guidance from higher headquarters.[11-40] Carry on it did, but the problems associated with the distribution of black airmen, problems the command constantly shared with Air Force headquarters, lingered throughout 1948.[11-41]

The Air Force's segregation policy had meanwhile created a critical situation in the black tactical units. The old 332d, now the 332d Fighter Wing, shared with the rest of the command the burden of too many low-scoring men—35 percent of Lockbourne's airmen were in the two lowest groups, IV and V—but here the problem was acute since the presence of so many persons with little ability limited the number of skilled black airmen that the Tactical Air Command could transfer to the wing from other parts of the command. Under direction of the command, the Ninth Air Force was taking advantage of a regulation that restricted the reenlistment of low-scoring airmen, but the high percentage of unskilled (p. 283) Negroes persisted at Lockbourne. Negroes in the upper test brackets were not reenlisting while the low scorers unquestionably were.[11-42]

At the same time there was a shortage of rated black officers. The 332d Fighter Wing was authorized 244 officers, but only 200 were assigned in February 1948. There was no easy solution to the shortage, a product of many years of neglect. Segregation imposed the necessity of devising a broad and long-range recruitment and training program for black officers, but not until April 1948 did the Tactical Air Command call for a steady flow of Negroes through officer candidate and flight training schools.[11-43] It hoped to have another thirty-one black pilot graduates by March 1949 and planned to recall thirty-two others from inactive status.[11-44] Even these steps could not possibly alleviate the serious shortage caused by the perennial failure to replace the wing's annual pilot attrition.

The chronic shortage of black field grade officers in the 332d was the immediate cause of the change in Air Force policy. By February 1948 the 332d had only thirteen of its forty-eight authorized field grade officers on duty. The three tactical units of the wing were commanded by captains instead of the authorized lieutenant colonels. If Colonel Davis were reassigned, and his attendance at the Air War College was expected momentarily, his successor as wing commander would be a major with five years' service.[11-45] The Tactical Air Commander was trying to have all field grade Negroes assigned to the 332d, but even that expedient would not provide enough officers.[11-46] Finally, General Quesada decided to recommend that "practically all" the key field grade positions in the 332d Wing be filled by whites.[11-47]

Subsequent discussions at Air Force headquarters gave the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, three choices: leave Lockbourne manned exclusively by black officers; assign a white wing commander with a racially mixed staff; or permit Colonel Davis to remain in command with a racially mixed staff. Believing that General Vandenberg would approve the last course, the Tactical Air Command proceeded to search for appropriate white officers to fill the key positions under Davis.[11-48]

The deputy commander of the Ninth Air Force, Brig. Gen. Jarred V. Crabb, predicted that placing whites in key positions in the 332d would cause trouble, but leaving Davis in command of a mixed staff "would be loaded with dynamite."[11-49] (p. 284) The commander of the Ninth Air Force called the proposal to integrate the 332d's staff contrary to Air Force policy, which prescribed segregated units of not less than company strength. General Old was forthright:

[Integration] would be playing in the direction in which the negro press would like to force us. They are definitely attempting to force the Army and Air Force to solve the racial problem. As you know, they have been strongly advocating mixed companies of white and colored. For obvious reasons this is most undesirable and to do so would definitely limit the geographical locations in which such units could be employed. If the Air Forces go ahead and set a precedent, most undesirable repercussions may occur. Regardless of how the problem is solved, we would certainly come under strong criticism of the negro press. That must be expected.

In view of the combat efficiency demonstrated by colored organizations during the last war, my first recommendation in the interest of national defense and saving the taxpayer's money is to let the organization die on the vine. We make a big subject of giving the taxpayers the maximum amount of protection for each dollar spent, then turn around and support an organization that would contribute little or nothing in an emergency. It is my own opinion that it is an unnecessary drain on our national resources, but for political reasons I presume the organization must be retained. Therefore, my next recommended solution is to transfer all of the colored personnel from the Wing Headquarters staff to the Tactical and Service Organizations within the Wing structure and replace it with a completely white staff.[11-50]

It is difficult to estimate the extent to which these views were shared by other senior commanders, but they were widespread and revealed the tenacious hold of segregation.[11-51]

The Ninth Air Force's deputy commander offered another solution: use "whatever colored officers we have" to run Lockbourne. He urged that Colonel Davis's absence at the Air War College be considered a temporary arrangement. Meanwhile, the general added, "we can carry Lockbourne along for that period of time by close supervision from this headquarters."[11-52] As Davis later put it, cost effectiveness, not prejudice, was the key factor in the Air Force's wish to get rid of the 332d. The Air Force, he concluded, "wasn't getting its money's worth from negro pilots in a black air force."[11-53]

The Tactical Air Command's use of black troops is always singled out because of the numbers involved, but the problem was common to nearly all commands. Most Negroes in the Strategic Air Command, for example, were assigned to aviation engineer units where, as construction workers, they built roads, runways, and housing for the command's far-flung bases. These duties were transient, however, and like migrant workers at home, black construction crews were shifted from base to base as the need arose; they had little chance for promotion, let alone the opportunity to develop other skills.[11-54]

Colonel Davis

Colonel Davis

The distribution of Negroes in all commands, and particularly the shortage of black specialists and officers in the 332d Fighter Wing, strongly influenced the (p. 285) Air Force to reexamine its racial policy, but pressures came from outside the department as well as from the black community which began to press its demands on the new service.[11-55] The prestigious Pittsburgh Courier opened the campaign in March 1948 by directing a series of questions on Air Force policy to the Chief of Staff. General Carl Spaatz responded with a smooth summary of the Gillem Board Report, leaning heavily on that document's progressive aims. "It is the feeling of this Headquarters," the Chief of Staff wrote, "that the ultimate Air Force objective must be to eliminate segregation among its personnel by the unrestricted use of Negro personnel in free competition for any duty within the Air Force for which they may qualify."[11-56] Unimpressed with this familiar rhetoric, the Courier headlined its account of the exchange, "Air Force to Keep Segregated Policy."

Assistant Secretary Eugene M. Zuckert followed General Spaatz's line when he met with black leaders at the National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs in April 1948, but his audience also showed little interest in future intentions. Putting it bluntly, they wanted to know why segregation was necessary in the Air Force. Zuckert could only assure them that segregation was a "practical military expediency," not an "endorsement of belief in racial distribution."[11-57] But the black leaders pressed the matter further. Why was it expedient in a system dedicated to consideration of the individual, asked the president of Howard University, to segregate a Negro of superior mentality? At Yale or Harvard, Dr. Mordecai Johnson continued, he would be kept on the team, but if he entered the Air Force he would be "brigaded with all the people from Mississippi and Alabama who had had education that costs $100 a year."[11-58]

Answering for the Air Force, Lt. Gen. Idwal H. Edwards, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, admitted segregation was unnecessary, promised eventual integration, but stated firmly that for the present segregation remained Air Force (p. 286) policy. As evidence of progress, Edwards pointed to the peaceful integration of black officers in training at Randolph Field. For one conferee this "progress" led to another conclusion: resistance to integration had to emanate from the policymakers, not from the fighting men. All Edwards could manage in the way of a reply was that Air Force policy was considered "the best way to make this thing work under present conditions."[11-59] Later Edwards, who was not insensitive to the arguments of the black leaders, told Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington that perhaps some recommendation "looking toward the integration of whites and negroes in the same units may be forthcoming" from the Air Board's study of racial policy which was to commence the first week in May.[11-60]

If the logic of the black leaders impressed General Edwards, the demands themselves had little effect on policy. It remained for James C. Evans, now the adviser to Secretary of Defense Forrestal, to translate these questions and demands into recommendations for specific action. Taking advantage of a long acquaintance with the Secretary of the Air Force, Evans discussed the department's race problem with him in May 1948. Symington was sympathetic. "Put it on paper," he told Evans.[11-61]

Couching his recommendations in terms of the Gillem Board policy, Evans faithfully summarized for the secretary the demands of black leaders. Specifically, he asked that Colonel Davis, the commander of Lockbourne Air Force Base, be sent for advanced military schooling without delay. Diversification of career was long overdue for Davis, the ranking black officer in the Air Force, as it was for others who were considered indispensable because of the small number of qualified black leaders. For Davis, most of all, the situation was unfair since he had always been in command of practically all rated black officers. Nor was it good for his subordinates. The Air Force should not hesitate to assign a white replacement for Davis. In effect, Evans was telling Symington that the black community would understand the necessity for such a move.

Besides, under the program Evans was recommending, the all-black wing would soon cease to exist. He wanted the Air Force to "deemphasize" Lockbourne as the black air base and scatter the black units concentrated there. He wanted to see Negroes dispersed throughout the Air Force, either individually or in small units contemplated by the Gillem Board, but he wanted men assigned on the basis of technical specialty and proficiency rather than race. It was unrealistic, he declared, to assume all black officers could be most effectively utilized as pilots and all enlisted men as Squadron F laborers. Limiting training and job opportunity because of race reduced fighting potential in a way that never could be justified. The Air Force should open to its Negroes a wide variety of training, experience, and opportunity to acquire versatility and proficiency.[11-62]

General Edwards

General Edwards

If (p. 287) followed, this program would fundamentally alter Air Force racial practices. General Edwards recommended that the reply to Evans should state that certain policy changes would be forthcoming, although they would have to await the outcome of a departmental reevaluation currently under way. The suggestions had been solicited by Symington, and Edwards was anxious for Evans to understand the delay was not a device to defer action.[11-63]

Edwards was in a position to make such assurances. He was an influential member of the Air staff with considerable experience in the field of race relations. As a member of the Army staff during World War II he had worked closely with the old McCloy committee on black troops and had strongly advocated wartime experiments with the integration of small-scale units.[11-64] His background, along with his observations as chief personnel officer in the new Air Force, had taught him to avoid abstract appeals to justice and to make suggestions in terms of military efficiency. Concern with efficiency led him, soon after the Air Force became a separate service, to order Lt. Col. Jack F. Marr, a member of his staff, to study the Air Force's racial policy and practices. Testifying to Edwards's pragmatic approach, Marr later said of his own introduction to the subject: "There was no sociology involved. It was merely a routine staff action along with a bunch of other staff actions that were taking place."[11-65]

Colonel Marr

Colonel Marr

A similar concern for efficiency, this time triggered by criticism at the National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs in April 1948 and Evans's discussions with Secretary Symington the following month, led Edwards, after talking it over with Assistant Secretary Zuckert, to raise the subject of the employment of Negroes in the Air Board in May.[11-66] In the wake of the Air Board discussion the Chief of Staff appointed a group under Maj. Gen. Richard E. Nugent, then Director (p. 288) of Civilian Personnel, to reexamine the service's race policy.[11-67] Nugent was another Air Force official who viewed the employment of Negroes as a problem in military efficiency.[11-68] These three, Edwards, Nugent, and Marr, were the chief figures in the development of the Air Force integration plan, which grew out of the Nugent group's study. Edwards and Nugent supervised its many refinements in the staff while Marr, whom Zuckert later described as the indispensable man, wrote the plan and remained intimately connected with it until the Air Force carried it out.[11-69] Antedating the Truman order to integrate the services, the provisions of this plan eventually became the program under which the Air Force was integrated.[11-70]

As it evolved during the months of deliberation,[11-71] the Air Force study of black manpower weighed Air Force practices against the Gillem Board Report and found them "considerably divergent" from the policy as outlined. It isolated several reasons for this divergence. Black airmen on the whole, as measured by classification tests, were unsuitable and inadequate for operating all-black air units organized and trained for modern combat. To achieve a balance of skills and training in black units was a "never ending problem for which there appears to be no solution under either the current Air Force policies or the policies recommended by the Gillem Board." In short, practices with respect to Negroes were "wasteful, deleterious to military effectiveness and lacking in wartime application."

Edwards (p. 289) and his staff saw several advantages in complete integration. Wherever qualified black airmen had been permitted to compete with whites on their individual qualifications and abilities, the Negroes "achieved a certain amount of acceptance and recognition." Students in some schools lived and learned side by side as a matter of practical necessity. "This degree of integration and acceptance on a competitive basis has been eminently successful and has to a remarkable degree solved the 'Negro problem' for the training schools involved." At some bases qualified black airmen were administratively assigned to black units but actually performed duties in white units. Some commanders had requested that these men be permanently transferred and assigned to the white units because the men deserved higher grades but could not receive them in black units and because it was poor management to have individuals performing duties for one military organization and living under the administrative jurisdiction of another.

In the end consideration of full integration was dropped in favor of a program based on the Navy's postwar integration of its general service. Edwards and his personnel staff dismissed the Navy's problems with stewards and its difficulty in enlisting skilled Negroes as temporary embarrassments with little practical consequence. This problem apparently allowed an economic and efficient use of Negroes and also "relieved the Navy of the necessity for repeated efforts to justify an untenable position." They saw several practical advantages in a similar policy for the Air Force. It would allow the elimination of the 10 percent quota. The inactivation of some black units—"and the pronounced relief of the problems involved in maintaining those units under present conditions"—could be accomplished without injustice to Negroes and with benefit to the Air Force. Nor would the integration of qualified Negroes in technical and combat units appreciably alter current practices; according to contemporary estimates such skilled men would never total more that 1 percent of the service's manpower.

The logic of social justice might have led to total integration, but it would not have solved the Air Force's pressing problem of too many unskilled blacks. It was consideration of military efficiency, therefore, that led these personnel experts to propose a system of limited integration along the lines of the Navy's postwar policy. Such a system, they concluded, would release the Air Force from its quota obligation—and hence its continuing surplus of unskilled men—and free it to assign its relatively small group of skilled black recruits where they were needed and might advance.

Although limited, the proposed reform was substantial enough to arouse opposition. General Edwards reported overwhelming opposition to any form of integration among Air Force officers, and never during the spring of 1948 did the Chief of Staff seriously consider even partial integration.[11-72] But if integration, even in a small dose, was unpalatable, widespread inefficiency was intolerable. And (p. 290) a new service, still in the process of developing policy, might embrace the new and the practical, especially if pressure were exerted from above. Assistant Secretary Zuckert intimated as much when he finally replied to James Evans, "You have my personal assurance that our present position is not in the interest of maintaining the status quo, but it is in anticipation of a more progressive and more satisfactory action in the relatively near future."[11-73]

CHAPTER 12 (p. 291)

The President Intervenes

On 26 July 1948 President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, calling on the armed forces to provide equal treatment and opportunity for black servicemen. This act has variously been described as an example of presidential initiative, the capstone of the Truman civil rights program, and the climax of the struggle for racial equality in the armed forces. But in some ways the order was simply a practical response to a presidential dilemma.

The President's order was related to the advent of the cold war. Developments in the Middle East and Europe testified to the ambitions of the Soviet Union, and many Americans feared the spread of communism throughout the world, a threat more ominous with the erosion of American military strength since World War II. In March 1947 Truman enunciated a new foreign policy calling for the containment of Soviet expansion and pledging economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey. A year later he asked Congress to adopt the Marshall Plan for economic aid to Europe, authorize military training, and enact a new selective service law to maintain the armed forces at expanded levels. That same month his principal military advisers met at Key West, Florida, to discuss new military roles and missions for the armed forces, grapple with paralyzing divisions among the services, and re-form the military establishment into a genuinely unified whole.[12-1] As if to underscore the urgency of these measures, the Soviet Union began in April 1948 to harass Allied troops in Berlin, an action that would develop into a full-scale blockade by June.

Integration of the armed forces hardly loomed large on the international scene, but if the problem of race appeared insignificant to military planners, the sheer number of Negroes in the armed forces gave them new prominence in national defense. Because of postwar racial quotas, particularly in the Army and Air Force, black servicemen now constituted a significant segment of the service population, and consequently their abilities and well-being had a direct bearing on the nation's cold war defenses. The black community represented 10 percent of the country's manpower, and this also influenced defense planning. Black threats to boycott the segregated armed forces could not be ignored, and civil rights demands had to be considered in developing laws relating to selective service and universal training. Nor could the administration overlook the fact that the United States had become a leading protagonist in a cold war in which the sympathies of the undeveloped and mostly colored world would soon assume a special importance. Inasmuch as integration of the services had become an almost (p. 292) universal demand of the black community, integration became, willy-nilly, an important defense issue.

A second stimulus to improvement of the black serviceman's position was the Truman administration's strong civil rights program, which gave executive sanction to a national movement started some years before. The civil rights movement was the product of many factors, including the federal government's increased sense of responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens, a sense that had grown out of the New Deal and a world war which expanded horizons and increased economic power for much of the black population. The Supreme Court had recently accelerated this movement by broadening its interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the black community itself greater participation in elections and new techniques in community action were eroding discriminatory traditions and practices in many communities.

The civil rights movement had in fact progressed by 1948 to a stage at which it was politically attractive for a Democratic president to assume a vigorous civil rights stance. The urban black vote had become a major goal of Truman's election campaign, and he was being pressed repeatedly by his advisers to demonstrate his support for black interests. A presidential order on armed forces integration logically followed because the services, conspicuous practitioners of segregation and patently susceptible to unilateral action on the part of the Chief Executive, were obvious and necessary targets in the black voters' campaign for civil rights.

Finally, the integration order resulted in part from the move toward service unification and the emergence of James V. Forrestal as Secretary of Defense. Despite misgivings over centralized control of the nation's defense establishment and overconcentration of power in the hands of a Secretary of Defense, Forrestal soon discovered that certain problems rising out of common service experiences naturally converged on the office of the secretary. Both by philosophy and temperament he was disposed to avoid a clash with the services over integration. He remained sensitive to their interests and rights, and he frankly doubted the efficacy of social change through executive fiat. Yet Forrestal was not impervious to the aspirations of the civil rights activists; guided by a humane interest in racial equality, he made integration a departmental goal. His technique for achieving integration, however, proved inadequate in the face of strong service opposition, and finally the President, acting on the basis of these seemingly unrelated motives, had to issue the executive order to strengthen the defense secretary's hand.

The Truman Administration and Civil Rights

Executive and legislative interest in the civil rights of black Americans reached a level in 1948 unmatched since Reconstruction. The President himself was the catalyst. By creating a presidential committee on civil rights and developing a legislative program based on its findings, Truman brought the black minority into the political arena and committed the federal government to a program of social legislation that it has continued to support ever since. Little in (p. 293) the President's background suggested he would sponsor basic social changes. He was a son of the middle border, from a family firmly dedicated to the Confederate cause. His appreciation of black aspirations was hardly sophisticated, as he revealed to a black audience in 1940: "I wish to make it clear that I am not appealing for social equality of the Negro. The Negro himself knows better than that, and the highest types of Negro leaders say quite frankly they prefer the society of their own people. Negroes want justice, not social relations."[12-2]

Nor did his attitude change drastically in later years. In 1961, seven years after the Supreme Court's vital school integration decision, Truman was calling the Freedom Riders "meddlesome intruders who should stay at home and attend to their own business." His suggestion to proprietors of lunch counters undergoing sit-ins was to kick out unwelcome customers.[12-3] But if he failed to appreciate the scope of black demands, Truman nevertheless demonstrated as early as 1940 an acute awareness of the connection between civil rights for blacks and civil liberties for all Americans:

In giving Negroes the rights which are theirs we are only acting in accord with our own ideals of a true democracy. If any class or race can be permanently set apart from, or pushed down below the rest in political and civil rights, so may any other class or race when it shall incur the displeasure of its more powerful associates, and we may say farewell to the principles on which we count our safety.[12-4]

He would repeat these sentiments to other gatherings, including the assembled delegates of the NAACP's 1946 convention.[12-5] The President's civil rights program would be based, then, on a practical concern for the rights of the majority. Neither his social philosophy nor his political use of black demands should detract from his achievements in the field of civil rights.

It was probably just as well that Truman adopted a pragmatic approach to civil rights, for there was little social legislation a reform president could hope to get through the postwar Congresses. Dominated by a conservative coalition that included the Dixiecrats, a group of sometimes racially reactionary southerners, Congress showed little interest in civil rights. The creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, the one piece of legislation directly affecting Negroes and the only current test of congressional intent in civil rights, was floundering on Capitol Hill. Truman conspicuously supported the fair employment measure, but did little else specifically in the first year after the war to advance civil rights. Instead he seemed content to carry on with the New Deal approach to the problem: improve the social condition of all Americans and the condition of the minorities will also improve. In this vein his first domestic program concentrated on national projects for housing, health, and veterans' benefits.

The (p. 294) conversion of Harry Truman into a forceful civil rights advocate seems to have come about, at least partially, from his exposure to what he later called the "anti-minority" incidents visited on black servicemen and civilians in 1946.[12-6] Although the lynchings, property destruction, and assaults never matched the racial violence that followed World War I, they were enough to convince many civil rights leaders that the pattern of racial strife was being repeated. Some of these men, along with a group of labor executives and clergymen, formed a National Emergency Committee Against Mob Violence to warn the American public against the dangers of racial intolerance. A delegation from this committee, with Walter White as spokesman, met with the President on 19 September 1946 to demand government action. White described the scene:

The President sat quietly, elbows resting on the arms of his chair and his fingers interlocked against his stomach as he listened with a grim face to the story of the lynchings.... When I finished, the President exclaimed in his flat, midwestern accent, "My God! I had no idea it was as terrible as that! We've got to do something!"[12-7]

But the Truman administration had nearly exhausted the usual remedies open to it. The Attorney General had investigated the lynchings and Klan activities and the President had spoken out strongly and repeatedly against mob violence but without clear and pertinent civil rights legislation presidential exhortations and investigations counted for very little. Civil rights leaders like White understood this, and, given the mood of Congress, they were resigned to the lack of legislative support. Nevertheless, it was in this context that the President decided to create a committee to investigate and report on the status of civil rights in America.

The concept of a federal civil rights group had been circulating in the executive branch for some time. After the Detroit race riot in 1943, presidential assistant Jonathan Daniels had organized a committee to deal with racial troubles. Proposals to create a national organization to reduce racial tensions were advanced later in the war, principally by Saul K. Padover, a minority specialist in the Interior Department, and David K. Niles of the White House staff. Little came of the committee idea, however, because Roosevelt was convinced that any steps associated with integration would prove divisive and were unwise during wartime.[12-8] With the war over and a different political climate prevailing, Niles, now senior White House adviser on minority affairs, proposed the formation of a committee not only to investigate racial violence but also to explore the entire subject of civil rights.

Walter White

Walter White

Walter White and his friends greeted the idea with some skepticism. They had come demanding action, but were met instead with another promise of a committee (p. 295) and the probability of interminable congressional debate and unproductive hearings.[12-9] But this time, for several reasons, it would be different. In the first place the civil rights leaders underestimated the sincerity of Truman's reaction to the racial violence. He had quickly agreed to create Niles's committee by executive order to save it from possible pigeonholing at the hands of a hostile Congress. He had also given the group, called the President's Committee on Civil Rights, a broad directive "to determine whether and in what respect current law enforcement measures and the authority and means possessed by Federal, State, and local governments may be strengthened and improved to safeguard the civil rights of the people."[12-10] The civil rights leaders also failed to gauge the effect Republican victories in the 1946 congressional elections would have on the administration. Finding it necessary to court the Negro and other minorities and hoping to confound congressional opposition, the administration sought a strong civil rights program to put before the Eightieth Congress. Thus, the committee's recommendations would get respectful attention in the White House. Finally, neither the civil rights leaders nor the President could have foreseen the effectiveness of the committee members. Serving under Charles E. Wilson, president of the General Electric Company, the group included among its fifteen members distinguished church leaders, public service lawyers, the presidents of Dartmouth College and the University of North Carolina, and prominent labor executives. The committee had two black members, Sadie T. M. Alexander, a lawyer from Philadelphia, and Channing H. Tobias, director of the Phelps-Stokes Fund. Its members not only prepared a comprehensive survey of the condition of civil rights in America but also presented to the President on 29 October 1947 a far-reaching series of recommendations, in effect a program for corrective action that would serve as a bench mark for civil rights progress for many years.[12-11]

The group recommended the concentration of civil rights work in the Department of Justice, the establishment of a permanent civil rights commission, a federal antilynching act, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, and legislation to correct discrimination in voting and naturalization laws. (p. 296) It also examined the state of civil rights in the armed forces and incidentally publicized the long-ignored survey of black infantry platoons that had fought in Europe in 1945.[12-12] It concluded:

The injustice of calling men to fight for freedom while subjecting them to humiliating discrimination within the fighting forces is at once apparent. Furthermore, by preventing entire groups from making their maximum contribution to the national defense, we weaken our defense to that extent and impose heavier burdens on the remainder of the population.[12-13]

The committee called for sweeping change in the armed forces, recommending that Congress enact legislation, followed by appropriate administrative action, to end all discrimination and segregation in the services. Concluding that the recent service unification provided a timely opportunity for revision of existing policies and practices, the committee proposed a specific ban on discrimination and segregation in all phases of recruitment, assignment, and training, including selection for service schools and academies, as well as in mess halls, quarters, recreational facilities, and post exchanges. It also wanted commissions and promotions awarded on merit alone and asked for new laws to protect servicemen from discrimination in communities adjacent to military bases.[12-14] The committee wanted the President to look beyond the integration of people working and living on military bases, and it introduced a concept that would gain considerable support in a future administration. The armed forces, it declared, should be used as an instrument of social change. World War II had demonstrated that the services were a laboratory in which citizens could be educated on a broad range of social and political issues, and the administration was neglecting an effective technique for teaching the public the advantages of providing equal treatment and opportunity for all citizens.[12-15]

President Truman deleted the recommendations on civil rights in the services when he transmitted the committee's recommendations to Congress in the form of a special message on 2 February 1948. Arguing that the services' race practices were matters of executive interest and pointing to recent progress toward better race relations in the armed forces, the President told Congress that he had already instructed the Secretary of Defense to take steps to eliminate remaining instances of discrimination in the services as rapidly as possible. He also promised that the personnel policies and practices of all the services would be made uniform.[12-16]

To press for civil rights legislation for the armed forces or even to mention segregation was politically imprudent. Truman had two pieces of military legislation to get through Congress: a new draft law and a provision for universal military (p. 297) training. These he considered too vital to the nation's defense to risk grounding on the shoals of racial controversy. For the time being at least, integration of the armed forces would have to be played down, and any civil rights progress in the Department of Defense would have to depend on the persuasiveness of James Forrestal.

Truman's Civil Rights Campaign

Truman's Civil Rights Campaign
as seen by Washington Star cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman, March 14, 1948.

Civil Rights and the Department of Defense

The basic postwar reorganization of the National Military Establishment, the National Security Act of 1947, created the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a separate Department of the Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council. It also reconstituted the War Department as the Department of the Army and gave legal recognition as a permanent agency to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The principle of military unification that underlay the reorganization plan was muted in the legislation that finally emerged from Congress. Although the Secretary of Defense was given authority to establish general policies (p. 298) and to exercise general direction and control of the services, the services themselves retained a large measure of autonomy in their internal administration and individual service secretaries retained cabinet rank. In effect, the act created a secretary without a department, a reorganization that largely reflected the viewpoint of the Navy. The Army had fought for a much greater degree of unification, which would not be achieved until the passage of the National Security Act amendments of 1949. This legislation redesignated the unified department the Department of Defense, strengthened the powers of the Secretary of Defense, and provided for uniform budgetary procedures. Although the services were to be "separately administered," their respective secretaries henceforward headed "military departments" without cabinet status.

The first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, was a man of exceptional administrative talents, yet even before taking office he expressed strong reservations on the wisdom of a unified military department. As early as 30 July 1945, at breakfast with President Truman during the Potsdam Conference, Forrestal questioned whether any one man "was good enough to run the combined Army, Navy, and Air Departments." What kind of men could the president get in peacetime, he asked, to be under secretaries of War, Navy, and Air if they were subordinate to a single defense secretary?[12-17] Speaking to Lester Granger that same year on the power of the Secretary of the Navy to order the Marine Corps to accept Negroes, Forrestal expressed uncertainty about a cabinet officer's place in the scheme of things. "Some people think the Secretary is god-almighty, but he's just a god-damn civilian."[12-18] Even after his appointment as defense secretary doubts lingered: "My chief misgivings about unification derived from my fear that there would be a tendency toward overconcentration and reliance on one man or one-group direction. In other words, too much central control."[12-19]

Forrestal's philosophy of management reinforced the limitations placed on the Secretary of Defense by the National Security Act. He sought a middle way in which the efficiency of a unified system could be obtained without sacrificing what he considered to be the real advantages of service autonomy. Thus, he supported a 1945 report of the defense study group under Ferdinand Eberstadt that argued for a "coordinated" rather than a "unitary" defense establishment.[12-20] Practical experience modified his fears somewhat, and by October 1948, convinced he needed greater power to control the defense establishment, Forrestal urged that the language of the National Security Act, which limited the Secretary of Defense to "general" authority only over the military departments, be amended to eliminate the word general. Yet he always retained his basic distrust (p. 299) of dictation, preferring to understand and adjust rather than to conclude and order.[12-21]

Nowhere was Forrestal's philosophy of government more evident than in his approach to the problem of integration. His office would be concerned with equal opportunity, he promised Walter White soon after his elevation to the new post, but "the job of Secretary of Defense," he warned, "is one which will have to develop in an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary manner." Further dashing hopes of sudden reform, Forrestal added that specific racial problems, as distinct from general policy matters, would remain the province of the individual services.[12-22] He retained this attitude throughout his tenure. He considered the President's instructions to end remaining instances of discrimination in the services "in accord with my own conception of my responsibilities under unification," and he was in wholehearted agreement with a presidential wish that the National Military Establishment work out the answer to its racial problems through administrative action. He wanted to see a "more nearly uniform approach to interracial problems by the three Services," but experience had demonstrated, he believed, that racial problems could not be solved simply by publishing an executive order or passing a law. Racial progress would come from education. Such had been his observation in the wartime Navy, and he was ready to promise that "even greater progress will be made in the future." But, he added, "progress must be made administratively and should not be put into effect by fiat."[12-23]

Executive fiat was just what some of Forrestal's advisers wanted. For example, his executive assistant, John H. Ohly, his civilian aide, James C. Evans,[12-24] and Truman Gibson urged the secretary to consider establishing an interservice committee along the lines of the old McCloy committee to prepare a uniform racial policy that he could apply to all the services. They wanted the committee to examine past and current practices as well as the recent reports of the President's Advisory Commission on Universal Training and the Committee on Civil Rights and to make specific recommendations for carrying out and policing department policy. Truman Gibson went to the heart of the matter: the formulation of such an interservice committee would signal to the black community better than anything else the defense establishment's determination to change the racial situation. More and more, he warned, the discrepancies among the services' racial practices were attracting public attention. Most important to the administration was the fact that these discrepancies were strengthening opposition to universal military training and the draft.[12-25]

A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph.
(Detail from painting by Betsy G. Reyneau.)

Gibson (p. 300) was no doubt referring to A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and organizer of the 1940 March on Washington Movement, who had spoken out against the pending legislation. Randolph was particularly concerned that the bill did not prohibit segregation, and he quoted a member of the Advisory Commission on Universal Training who admitted that the bill ignored the racial issue because "the South might oppose UMT if Negroes were included." Drafting eighteen-year olds into a segregated Army was a threat to black progress, Randolph charged, because enforced segregation made it difficult to break down other forms of discrimination. Convinced that the Pentagon was trying to bypass the segregation issue, Randolph and Grant Reynolds, a black clergyman and New York politician, formed a Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. They planned to submit a proposal to the President and Congress for drafting a nondiscrimination measure for the armed forces, and they were prepared to back up this demand with a march on Washington—no empty gesture in an election year. Randolph had impressive backing from black leaders, among them Dr. Channing H. Tobias of the Civil Rights Committee, George S. Schuyler, columnist of the Pittsburgh Courier, L. D. Reddick, curator of the Schomburg Collection of the New York Public Library, and Joe Louis.[12-26]

Black spokesmen were particularly incensed by the attitude of the Secretary of the Army and his staff. Walter White pointed out that these officials continued to justify segregated units on the grounds that segregation was—he quoted them—"in the interest of national defense." White went to special pains to refute the Army's contention that segregation was necessary because the Army had to conform to local laws and customs. "How," he asked Secretary Forrestal,

can the imposition of segregation upon northern states having clear-cut laws and policies in opposition to such practices be justified by the Army?... In view of President Truman's recent report to the Congress and in view of the report of his Committee on Civil Rights condemning segregation in the Armed Forces, I am at a loss to understand the reluctance on the part of the Department of Defense to immediately (p. 301) eliminate all vestiges of discrimination and segregation in the Armed Forces of this country. As the foremost defender of democratic principles in international councils, the United States can ill afford to any longer discriminate against its Negro citizens in its Armed Forces solely because they were fortunate or unfortunate enough to be born Negroes.[12-27]

Forrestal stubbornly resisted the pleas of his advisers and black leaders that he assume a more active role. In the first place he had real doubts concerning his authority to do so. Forrestal was also aware of the consequences an integration campaign would have on Capitol Hill, where he was in the midst of delicate negotiations on defense measures. But most of all the role of crusader did not fit him. "I have gone somewhat slowly," Forrestal had written in late October 1947, "because I believe in the theory of having things to talk about as having been done rather than having to predict them, and ... morale and confidence are easy to destroy but not easy to rebuild. In other words, I want to be sure that any changes we make are changes that accomplish something and not merely for the sake of change."[12-28]

To Forrestal equal opportunity was not a pious platitude, but a practical means of solving the military's racial problems. Equal opportunity was the tactic he had used in the Navy where he had encouraged specialized training for all qualified Negroes. He understood that on shipboard machinists ate and bunked with machinists, firemen with firemen. Inaugurated in the fleet, the practice naturally spread to the shore establishment, and equal opportunity led inevitably to the integration of the general service. Given the opportunity to qualify for all specialties, Negroes—albeit their number was limited to the small group in the general service—quickly gained equal treatment in off-the-job activities. Forrestal intended to apply the same tactic to achieve the same results in the other services.[12-29]

As in the past, he turned first to Lester Granger, his old friend from the National Urban League. Acting on the recommendation of his special assistant, Marx Leva, Forrestal invited Granger to the Pentagon to discuss the department's racial problems with a view to holding a general conference and symposium on the subject. As usual, Granger was full of ideas, and he and the secretary agreed that Forrestal should create a "critics group," which would discuss "Army and general defense policies in the use of Negro personnel."[12-30] Granger suggested a roster of black and white experts, influential in the black community and representing most shades of opinion, but he would exclude those apt to make political capital out of the issues.

The Leva-Granger conference idea fitted neatly into Forrestal's thinking. It offered the possibility of introducing to the services in a systematic and documented way the complaints of responsible black leaders while instructing those leaders in the manpower problems confronting the postwar armed forces. He (p. 302) hoped the conference would modify traditionalist attitudes toward integration while curbing mounting unrest in the black community. Granger and Forrestal agreed that the conference should be held soon. Although Granger wanted some "good solid white representation" in the group, Forrestal decided instead to invite fifteen black leaders to meet on 26 April in the Pentagon; he alerted the service secretaries, asking them to attend or to designate an assistant to represent them in each case.[12-31]

Announcement of the conference was upstaged in the press by the activities of some civil rights militants, including those whom Granger sought to exclude from the Forrestal conference because he thought they would make a political issue of the war against segregation. Forrestal first learned of the militants' plans from members of the National Negro Publishers Association, a group of publishers and editors of important black journals who were about to tour European installations as guests of the Army.[12-32] At Granger's suggestion Forrestal had met with the publishers and editors to explain the causes for the delay in desegregating the services. Instead, he found himself listening to an impassioned demand for immediate change. Ira F. Lewis, president of the Pittsburgh Courier and spokesman for the group, told the secretary that the black community did not expect the services to be a laboratory or clearinghouse for processing the social ills of the nation, but it wanted to warn the man responsible for military preparedness that the United States could not afford another war with one-tenth of its population lacking the spirit to fight. The problem of segregation could best be solved by the policymakers. "The colored people of the country have a high regard for you, Mr. Secretary, as a square shooter," Lewis concluded. And from Forrestal they expected action.[12-33]

While black newspapermen were pressing the executive branch, Randolph and his Committee Against Jim Crow were demanding congressional action. Randolph concentrated on one explosive issue, the Army's procurement of troops. The first War Department plans for postwar manpower procurement were predicated on some form of universal military training, a new concept for the United States. The plans immediately came under fire from Negroes because the Army, citing the Gillem Board Report as its authority, had specified that black recruits be trained in segregated units. The Army had also specified that the black units form parts of larger, racially mixed units and would be trained (p. 303) in racially mixed camps.[12-34] The President's Advisory Commission on Universal Training (the Compton Commission), appointed to study the Army's program, strongly objected to the segregation provisions, but to no avail.[12-35] As if to signal its intentions the Army trained an experimental universal military training unit in 1947 at Fort Knox that carefully excluded black volunteers.

The showdown between civil rights organizations and the administration over universal military training never materialized. Faced with chronic opposition to the program and the exigencies of the cold war, the administration quietly shelved universal training and concentrated instead on the reestablishment of the selective service system. When black attention naturally shifted to the new draft legislation, Randolph was able to capitalize on the determination of many leaders in the civil rights movement to defeat any draft law that countenanced the Army's racial policy. Appearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on the draft bill, Randolph raised the specter of civil disobedience, pledging

to openly counsel, aid, and abet youth, both white and Negro, to quarantine any Jim Crow conscription system, whether it bear the label of universal military training or selective service....

From coast to coast in my travels I shall call upon all Negro veterans to join this civil disobedience movement and to recruit their younger brothers in an organized refusal to register and be drafted....

I shall appeal to the thousands of white youths ... to demonstrate their solidarity with Negro youth by ignoring the entire registration and induction machinery....

I shall appeal to the Negro parents to lend their moral support to their sons, to stand behind them as they march with heads held high to Federal prisons as a telling demonstration to the world that Negroes have reached the limit of human endurance, that, in the words of the spiritual, we will be buried in our graves before we will be slaves.[12-36]

Randolph argued that hard-won gains in education, job opportunity, and housing would be nullified by federal legislation supporting segregation. How could a Fair Employment Practices Commission, he asked, dare criticize discrimination in industry if the government itself was discriminating against Negroes in the services? "Negroes are just sick and tired of being pushed around," he concluded, "and we just do not propose to take it, and we do not care what happens."[12-37]

When Senator Wayne Morse warned Randolph that such statements in times of national emergency would leave him open to charges of treason, Randolph replied that by fighting for their rights Negroes were serving the cause of American democracy. Borrowing from the rhetoric of the cold war, he predicted that such was the effect of segregation on the international fight for men's minds that America could never stop communism as long as it was burdened with Jim Crowism. Randolph threw down the gauntlet. "We have to face this thing (p. 304) sooner or later, and we might just as well face it now."[12-38] It was up to the administration and Congress to decide whether his challenge was the beginning of a mass movement or a weightless threat by an extremist group.

The immediate reaction of various spokesmen for the black community supported both possibilities. Also testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Truman Gibson, who was a member of the Compton Commission that had objected to segregation, expressed "shock and dismay" at Randolph's pledge and predicted that Negroes would continue to participate in the country's defense effort.[12-39] For his pains Gibson was branded a "rubber stamp Uncle Tom" by Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. The black press, for the most part, applauded Randolph's analysis of the mood of Negroes, but shied away from the threat of civil disobedience. The NAACP and most other civil rights organizations took the same stand, condemning segregation but disavowing civil disobedience.[12-40]

Although the administration could take comfort in the relatively mild reaction from conservative blacks, an important element of the black community supported Randolph's stand. A poll of young educated Negroes conducted by the NAACP revealed that 71 percent of those of draft age would support the civil disobedience campaign. So impressive was Randolph's support—the New York Times called it a blunt warning from the black public—that one news journal saw in the campaign the specter of a major national crisis.[12-41] On the other hand, the Washington Post cautioned its readers not to exaggerate the significance of the protest. Randolph's words, the Post declared, were intended "more as moral pressure" for nondiscrimination clauses in pending draft and universal military training legislation than as a serious threat.[12-42]

Whatever its ultimate influence on national policy, the Randolph civil disobedience pledge had no visible effect on the position of the President or Congress. With a draft bill and a national political convention pending, the President was not about to change his hands-off policy toward the segregation issue in the services. In fact he showed some heat at what he saw as a threat by extremists to exploit an issue he claimed he was doing his best to resolve.[12-43] As for members of Congress, most of those who joined in the debate on the draft bill simply ignored the threatened boycott.

In contrast to the militant Randolph, the Negroes who gathered at Secretary Forrestal's invitation for the National Defense Conference on 26 April appeared to be a rather sedate group. But academic honors, business success, and gray hairs were misleading. These eminent educators, clergymen, and civil rights leaders (p. 305) proved just as determined as Randolph and his associates to be rid of segregation and, considering their position in the community, were more likely to influence the administration. That they were their own men quickly became apparent in the stormy course of the Pentagon meeting. They subjected a score of defense officials[12-44] to searching questions, submitted themselves to cross-examination by the press, and agreed to prepare a report for the Secretary of Defense.

While the group refrained from endorsing Randolph's position, it also refrained from criticizing him and strongly supported his thesis that segregation in itself was discrimination. Nor were its views soft-pedaled in the press release issued after the conference. The Secretary of Defense was forced to announce that the black leaders declined to serve as advisers to the National Military Establishment as long as the services continued to practice segregation. The group unanimously recommended that the armed services eliminate segregation and challenged the Army's interpretation of its own policy, insisting that the Army could abolish segregation even within the framework of the Gillem Board recommendations. The members planned no future meetings but adjourned to prepare their report.[12-45]

This adamant stand should not have surprised the Secretary of Defense. Forrestal could appreciate more than most the pressures operating on the group. In the aftermath of the report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights and in the heightened atmosphere caused by the rhetoric of the Randolph campaign, these men were also caught up in the militants' cause. If they were reluctant to attack the services too severely lest they lose their chance to influence the course of racial events in the department, they were equally reluctant to accept the pace of reform dictated by the traditionalists. In the end they chose to side with their more radical colleagues. Thus despite Lester Granger's attempt to soften the blow, the conference designed to bring the opponents together ended with yet another condemnation of Forrestal's gradualism.

Forrestal himself agreed with the goals of the conferees, he told Granger, but at the same time he refused to abandon his approach, insisting that he could not force people into cooperation and mutual respect by issuing a directive. Instead he arranged for Granger to meet with Army leaders to spread the gospel of equal opportunity and ordered a report prepared showing precisely what the Navy did during the late months of the war and "how much of it has stuck—on the question of non-segregation both in messing and barracks." The report, written by Lt. Dennis D. Nelson, was sent to Secretary of the Army Royall along with (p. 306) sixteen photographs picturing blacks and whites being trained together and working side by side.[12-46]

National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs.

National Defense Conference on Negro Affairs.
Conferees prepare to meet with the press, 26 April 1948.

Given the vast size of the Army, it was perfectly feasible to open all training to qualified Negroes and yet continue for years racial practices that had so quickly proved impossible in the Navy's smaller general service. Of course, even in the Army the number of segregated jobs that could be created was limited, and in time Forrestal's tactics might, it could be argued, have succeeded despite the Army's size and the intractability of its leaders. Time, however, was precisely what Forrestal lacked, given the increasing political strength of the civil rights movement.

Sparked by Randolph's stand before the congressional committee, some members of the black community geared up for greater protests. Worse still for an administration facing a critical election, the protest was finding some support in the camps of the President's rivals. Early in May, for example, a group of prominent civil rights activists formed the Commission of Inquiry with the expressed purpose of examining the treatment of black servicemen during World War II. Organized by Randolph and Reynolds, the commission boasted Arthur Garfield Hayes, noted civil libertarian and lawyer, as its counsel. The commission planned to interrogate witnesses and, on the basis of the testimony gathered, issue a report to Congress and the public that would include recommendations on conscription legislation. Various Defense Department officials were invited to testify but only James C. Evans, who acted as department spokesman, (p. 307) accepted. During the inquiry, which Evans estimated was attended by 180 persons, little attention was given to Randolph's civil disobedience pledge, but Evans himself came in for considerable ridicule, and there were headlines aplenty in the black press.[12-47]

These attacks were being carried out in an atmosphere of heightened political interest in the civil rights of black servicemen. Henry A. Wallace, the Progressive Party's presidential candidate, had for some time been telling his black audiences that the administration was insincere because if it wanted to end segregation it could simply force the resignation of the Secretary of the Army.[12-48] Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican senator from Massachusetts, called on Forrestal to make "a real attempt, well thought out and well organized," to integrate a sizable part of the armed forces with soldiers volunteering for such arrangements. Quoting from General Eisenhower's testimony before the Armed Services Committee, he reminded Forrestal that segregation was not only an undeserved and unjustified humiliation to the Negro, but a potential danger to the national defense effort. In the face of a manpower shortage, it was inexcusable to view segregation simply as a political question, "of concern to a few individuals and to a few men in public life and to be dealt with as adroitly as possible, always with an eye to the largest number of votes."[12-49]

Yet as the timing of Senator Lodge's letter suggests, the political implications of the segregation fight were a prime concern of every politician involved, and Forrestal had to act with this fact in mind. The administration considered the Wallace campaign a real but minor threat because of his appeal to black voters in the early months of the campaign.[12-50] The Republican incursion into the civil rights field was more ominous, and Forrestal, having acknowledged Lodge's letter, turned to Lester Granger for help in drafting a detailed reply. It took Granger some time to suggest an approach because he agreed with Lodge on many points but found some of his inferences as unsound as the Army's policy. For instance Lodge approved Eisenhower's comments on segregation, and the only real difference between Eisenhower and the Army staff was that Eisenhower wanted segregation made more efficient by putting smaller all-black units into racially composite organizations. Negroes opposed segregation as an insult to their race and to their manhood. Granger wanted Forrestal to tell Lodge that no group of Negroes mindful of its public standing could take a position other than total opposition to segregation. Having to choose between Randolph's stand and Eisenhower's, Negroes could not endorse Eisenhower. Granger also thought Forrestal would do well to explain to Lodge that he himself favored for the other services the policy followed by the Navy in the name of improving efficiency and morale.[12-51]

A (p. 308) reply along these line was prepared, but Marx Leva persuaded Forrestal not to send it until the selective service bill had safely passed Congress.[12-52] Forrestal was "seriously concerned," he wrote the President on 28 May 1948, about the fate of that legislation. He wanted to express his opposition to an amendment proposed by Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia that would guarantee segregated units for those draftees who wished to serve only with members of their own race. He also wanted to announce his intention of making "further progress" in interracial relations. To that end he had discussed with Special Counsel to the President Clark M. Clifford the creation of an advisory board to recommend specific steps his department could take in the race relations field. Reiterating a long-cherished belief, Forrestal declared that this "difficult problem" could not be solved by issuing an executive order or passing a law, "for progress in this field must be achieved by education, and not by mandate."[12-53] The President agreed to these maneuvers,[12-54] but just three days later Forrestal returned to the subject, passing along to Truman a warning from Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio that both the Russell amendment and one proposed by Senator William Langer of North Dakota to prohibit all segregation were potential roadblocks to passage of the bill.[12-55] In the end Congress rejected both amendments, passing a draft bill without any special racial provisions on 19 June 1948.

The proposal for an advisory board proved to be Forrestal's last attempt to change the racial practices of the armed forces through gradualism. In the next few weeks the whole problem would be taken out of his hands by a White House grown impatient with his methods. There, in contrast to the comparatively weak position of the Secretary of Defense, who had not yet consolidated his authority, the full force and power of the Commander in Chief would be used to give a dramatic new meaning to equal treatment and opportunity in the armed forces. Given the temper of the times, Forrestal's surrender was inevitable, for a successful reform program had to show measurable improvements, and despite his maneuvers with the civil rights activists, the Congress, and the services, Forrestal had no success worth proclaiming in his first eight months of office.

This lack of progress disappointed civil rights leaders, who had perhaps overestimated the racial reforms made when Forrestal was Secretary of the Navy. It can be argued that as Secretary of Defense Forrestal himself was inclined to overestimate them. Nevertheless, he could demonstrate some systematic improvement in the lot of the black sailor, enough improvement, according to his gradualist philosophy, to assure continued progress. Ironically, considering Forrestal's faith in the efficacy of education and persuasion, whatever can be counted as his success in the Navy was accomplished by the firm authority he and (p. 309) his immediate subordinates exercised during the last months of the war. Yet this authority was precisely what he lacked in his new office, where his power was limited to only a general control over intransigent services that still insisted on their traditional autonomy.

In any case, by 1948 there was no hope for widespread reform through a step-by-step demonstration of the practicality and reasonableness of integration. Too much of the remaining opposition was emotional, rooted in prejudice and tradition, to yield to any but forceful methods. If the services were to be integrated in the short run, integration would have to be forced upon them.

Executive Order 9981

Although politics was only one of several factors that led to Executive Order 9981, the order was born during a presidential election campaign, and its content and timing reflect that fact. Having made what could be justified as a military decision in the interest of a more effective use of manpower in the armed forces, the President and his advisers sought to capitalize on the political benefits that might accrue from it.[12-56] The work of the President's Committee on Civil Rights and Truman's subsequent message to Congress had already elevated civil rights to the level of a major campaign issue. As early as November 1947 Clark Clifford, predicting the nomination of Thomas Dewey and Henry Wallace, had advised the President to concentrate on winning the allegiance of the nation's minority voters, especially the black, labor, and Jewish blocs.[12-57] Clifford had discounted the threat of a southern defection, but in the spring of 1948 southern Democrats began to turn from the party, and the black vote, an important element in the big city Democratic vote since the formation of the Roosevelt coalition, now became in the minds of the campaign planners an essential ingredient in a Truman victory. Through the efforts of Oscar Ewing, head of the Federal Security Administration and White House adviser on civil rights matters, and several other politicians, Harry Truman was cast in the role of minority rights champion.[12-58]

Theirs was not a difficult task, for the President's identification with the civil rights movement had become part of the cause of his unpopularity in some Democratic circles and a threat to his renomination. He overcame the attempt to deny him the presidential nomination in June, and he accepted the strong civil rights platform that emerged from the convention. The resolution committee of that convention had proposed a mild civil rights plank in the hope of preventing the defection of southern delegates, but in a dramatic floor fight Hubert H. Humphrey, the mayor of Minneapolis and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, forced through one of the strongest civil rights statements in the history of the party. This plank endorsed Truman's congressional message on civil rights and called (p. 310) for "Congress to support our President in guaranteeing these basic and fundamental rights ... the right of equal treatment in the service and defense of our nation."[12-59]

Truman admitted to Forrestal that "he had not himself wanted to go as far as the Democratic platform went on the civil rights issue." The President had no animus toward those who voted against the platform; he would have done the same if he had come from their states. But he was determined to run on the platform, and for him, he later said, a platform was not a window dressing. His southern colleagues understood him. When a reporter pointed out to Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina that the President had only accepted a platform similar to those supported by Roosevelt, the governor answered, "I agree, but Truman really means it."[12-60] After the platform fight the Alabama and Mississippi delegates walked out of the convention. The Dixiecrat revolt was on in earnest.

Both the Democratic platform and the report of the President's Civil Rights Committee referred to discrimination in the federal government, a matter obviously susceptible to presidential action. For once the "do-nothing" Congress could not be blamed, and if Truman failed to act promptly he would only invite the wrath of the civil rights forces he was trying to court. Aware of this political necessity, the President's advisers had been studying the areas in which the President alone might act in forbidding discrimination as well as the mechanics by which he might make his actions effective. According to Oscar Ewing, the advisers had decided as early as October 1947 that the best way to handle discrimination in the federal government was to issue a presidential order securing the civil rights of both civilian government employees and members of the armed forces. In the end the President decided to issue two executive orders.[12-61]

Clifford, Ewing, and Philleo Nash, who was a presidential specialist on minority matters, worked on drafting both orders. After consulting with Truman Gibson, Nash proposed that the order directed to the services should create a committee within the military establishment to push for integration, one similar to the McCloy committee in World War II. Like Gibson, Nash was convinced that change in the armed forces racial policy would come only through a series of steps initiated in each service. By such steps progress had been made in the Navy through its Special Programs Unit and in the Army through the efforts of the McCloy committee. Nash argued against the publication of an executive order that spelled out integration or condemned segregation. Rather, let the order to the services call for equal treatment and opportunity—the language of the Democratic platform. Tie it to military efficiency, letting the services discover, under guidance from a White House committee, the inefficiency of segregation. The services would quickly conclude, the advisers assumed, that equal treatment and opportunity were impossible (p. 311) in a segregated system.[12-62] After a series of discussions with the President, Nash, Clifford, and Ewing drew up a version of the order to the services along the lines suggested by Nash.[12-63]

The draft underwent one significant revision at the request of the Secretary of Defense. In keeping with his theory that the services should be given the chance to work out their own methods of compliance with the order to integrate, Forrestal wanted no deadlines set. To keep antagonisms to a minimum he wanted the order to call simply for progress "as rapidly as feasible." The President agreed.[12-64]

The timing of the order was politically important to Truman, and by late July the White House was extremely anxious to publish the document. The President now had his all-important selective service legislation; he was beginning to campaign on a platform calling for a special session of Congress—a Congress dominated by Republicans, who had also just approved a party platform calling for an end to segregation in the armed forces. Haste was evident in the fact that the order, along with copies for the service secretaries, was sent to the Secretary of Defense on the morning of 26 July—the day it was issued—for comment and review by that afternoon.[12-65] The order was also submitted to Walter White and A. Philip Randolph before it was issued.[12-66]

Actually, the order had been read to Forrestal on the evening of the previous day, and his office had suggested one more change. Marx Leva believed that the order would be improved if it mentioned the fact that substantial progress in civil rights had been made during the war and in the years thereafter. Since a sentence to this effect had been included in Truman's civil rights message of February, Leva thought it would be well to include it in the executive order. Believing also that policy changes ought to be the work of the government or of the executive branch of the government rather than of the President alone, he offered a sentence for inclusion: "To the extent that this policy has not yet been completely implemented, such alterations or improvements in existing rules, procedures and practices as may be necessary shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible." Although Forrestal approved the sentence, it was not accepted by the President.[12-67]

Approvals were quickly gathered from interested cabinet officials. The Attorney General passed on the form and legality of the order. Forrestal was certain that Stuart Symington of the Air Force and John L. Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy, would approve the order, but he suggested that Oscar Ewing discuss the draft with Kenneth Royall. According to Ewing, the Secretary of the Army read (p. 312) the order twice and said, "tell the President that I not only have no objections but wholeheartedly approve, and we'll go along with it."[12-68]

The historic document, signed by Truman on 26 July 1948, read as follows:

Executive Order 9981

Whereas it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country's defense:

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and as Commander in Chief of the armed services, it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.

2. There shall be created in the National Military Establishment an advisory committee to be known as the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, which shall be composed of seven members to be designated by the President.

3. The Committee is authorized on behalf of the President to examine into the rules, procedures and practices of the armed services in order to determine in what respect such rules, procedures and practices may be altered or improved with a view to carrying out the policy of this order. The Committee shall confer and advise with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Air Force, and shall make such recommendations to the President and to said Secretaries as in the judgment of the Committee will effectuate the policy hereof.

4. All executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government are authorized and directed to cooperate with the Committee in its work, and to furnish the Committee such information or the services of such persons as the Committee may require in the performance of its duties.

5. When requested by the Committee to do so, persons in the armed services or in any of the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall testify before the Committee and shall make available for the use of the Committee such documents and other information as the Committee may require.

6. The Committee shall continue to exist until such time as the President shall terminate its existence by Executive Order.

Harry S. Truman

The White House
July 26, 1948

As indicated by the endorsement of such diverse protagonists as Royall and Randolph, the wording of the executive order was in part both vague and misleading. The vagueness was there by design. The failure to mention either segregation or integration puzzled many people and angered others, but it was certainly to the advantage of a president who wanted to give the least offense possible to voters who supported segregation. In fact integration was not the precise word to describe the complex social change in the armed forces demanded by civil rights leaders, and the emphasis on equality of treatment and opportunity with its portent for the next generation was particularly appropriate. Truman, (p. 313) however, was not allowed to remain vague for long. Questioned at his first press conference after the order was issued, the President refused to set a time limit, but he admitted that he expected the order to abolish racial segregation in the armed forces.[12-69] The order was also misleading when it created the advisory committee "in" the National Military Establishment. Truman apparently intended to create a presidential committee to oversee the manpower policies of all the services, and despite the wording of the order the committee would operate as a creature of the White House, reporting to the President rather than to the Secretary of Defense.

The success of the new policy would depend to a great extent, as friends and foes of integration alike recognized, on the ability and inclination of this committee. The final choice of members was the President's, but he conspicuously involved the Democratic National Committee, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of the Army. He repeatedly solicited Forrestal's suggestions, and it was apparent that the views of the Pentagon would carry much weight in the final selection. Just four days after the publication of Executive Order 9981, the President's administrative assistant, Donald S. Dawson, wrote Forrestal that he would be glad to talk to him about the seven members.[12-70] Before Forrestal replied he had Leva discuss possible nominees with the three military departments and obtain their recommendations. The Pentagon's list went to the White House on 3 August. A list compiled subsequently by Truman's advisers, chiefly Philleo Nash and Oscar Ewing, and approved by the Democratic National Committee, duplicated a number of Forrestal's suggestions; its additions and deletions revealed the practical political considerations under which the White House had to operate.[12-71]

By mid-September the committee was still unformed. The White House had been unable to get either Frank Graham, president of the University of North Carolina, a member of the President's Committee on Civil Rights, and the first choice of both the White House and the Pentagon for chairman, or Charles E. Wilson, second choice, to accept the chairmanship. Secretary of the Army Royall was particularly incensed that some of the men being considered for the committee "have publicly expressed their opinion in favor of abolishing segregation in the Armed Services. At least one of them, Lester Grainger [sic], has been critical both of the Army and of me personally on this particular matter."[12-72] Royall wanted no one asked to serve on the President's committee who had fixed opinions on segregation, and certainly no one who had made a public pronouncement on the subject. He wanted the nominees questioned to make sure they could give "fair consideration" to the subject.[12-73] Royall favored Jonathan Daniels, Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution, Colgate Darden, president of the University of Virginia, and Douglas Southall Freeman, distinguished Richmond (p. 314) historian.[12-74] Names continued to be bruited about. Dawson asked Forrestal if he had any preferences for Reginald E. Gillmor, president of Sperry Gyroscope, or Julius Ochs Adler, noted publisher and former military aide to Secretary Stimson, as possibilities for chairman. Forrestal inclined toward Adler; "I believe he would be excellent although as a Southerner he might have limiting views."[12-75]

With the election imminent, the need for an announcement on the membership of the committee became pressing. On 16 September Dawson told Leva that a chairman and five of the six members had been selected and had agreed to serve: Charles Fahy, chairman, Charles Luckman, Lester Granger, John H. Sengstacke, Jacob Billikopf, and Alphonsus J. Donahue. The sixth member, still uninvited, was to be Dwight Palmer. Dawson said he would wait on this appointment until Forrestal had time to consider it, but two days later he was back, telling the secretary that the President had instructed him to release the names. There was final change: William E. Stevenson's name was substituted for Billikopf's.[12-76]

Although only two of Forrestal's nominees, Lester Granger and John Sengstacke, survived the selection process, the final membership was certainly acceptable to the Secretary of Defense. Charles Fahy was suggested by presidential assistant David K. Niles, who described the soft-voiced Georgian as a "reconstructed southerner liberal on race." A lawyer and former Solicitor General, Fahy had a reputation for sensitive handling of delicate problems, "with quiet authority and the punch of a mule." Granger's appointment was a White House bow to Forrestal and a disregard for Royall's objections. Sengstacke, a noted black publisher suggested by Forrestal and Ewing and supported by William L. Dawson, the black congressman from Chicago, was appointed in deference to the black press. Moreover, he had supported Truman's reelection "in unqualified terms." William Stevenson was the president of Oberlin College and was strongly recommended by Lloyd K. Garrison, president of the National Urban League. Finally, there was a trio of businessmen on the committee: Donahue was a Connecticut industrialist, highly recommended by Senator Howard J. McGrath of Rhode Island and Brian McMahon of Connecticut; Luckman was president of Lever Brothers and a native of Kansas City, Missouri; and Dwight Palmer was president of the General Cable Corporation.[12-77]

These were the men with whom, for a time at least, the Secretary of Defense would share his direction over the racial policies of the armed forces.

CHAPTER 13 (p. 315)

Service Interests Versus Presidential Intent

Several months elapsed between the appointment of the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services and its first meeting, a formal session with the President at the White House on 12 January 1949. Actually, certain advantages accrued from the delay, for postponing the meetings until after the President's reelection enabled the committee to face the services with assurance of continued support from the administration. Renewed presidential backing was probably necessary, considering the services' deliberations on race policy during this half-year hiatus. Their reactions to the order, logical outgrowths of postwar policies and practices, demonstrated how their perceived self-interests might subvert the President's intentions. The events of this six-month period also began to show the relative importance of the order and the parochial interests of the services as factors in the integration of the armed forces.

Public Reaction to Executive Order 9981

Considering the substantial changes it promised, the President's order provoked surprisingly little public opposition. Its publication coincided with the convening of the special session of a Congress smarting under Truman's "do-nothing" label. In this charged political atmosphere, the anti-administration majority in Congress quietly sidestepped the President's 27 July call for civil rights legislation. To do otherwise would only have added to the political profits already garnered by Truman in some important voting areas. For the same reason congressional opponents avoided all mention of Executive Order 9981, although the widely expected defeat of Truman and the consequent end to this executive sally into civil rights might have contributed to the silence. Besides, segregationists could do little in an immediate legislative way to counteract the presidential command. Congress had already passed the Selective Service Act and Defense Appropriations Act, the most suitable vehicles for amendments aimed at modifying the impact of the integration order. National elections and the advent of a new Congress precluded any other significant moves in this direction until later in the next year.

Yet if it was ignored in Congress, the order was nevertheless a clear signal to the friends of integration and brought with it a tremendous surge of hope to the black community. Publishing the order made Harry Truman the "darling of the Negroes," Roy Wilkins said later. Nor did the coincidence of its publication to the election, he added, bother a group that was becoming increasingly pragmatic (p. 316) about the reasons for social reform.[13-1] Both the declaredly Democratic Chicago Defender and Republican-oriented Pittsburgh Courier were aware of the implications of the order. The Defender ran an editorial on 7 August under the heading "Mr. Truman Makes History." The "National Grapevine" column of Charlie Cherokee in the same issue promised its readers a blow-by-blow description of the events surrounding the President's action. An interview in the same issue with Col. Richard L. Jones, black commander of the 178th Regimental Combat Team (Illinois), emphasized the beneficial effects of the proposed integration, and in the next issue, 14 August, the editor broadened the discussion with an editorial entitled "What About Prejudice?"[13-2] The Courier, for its part, questioned the President's sincerity because he had not explicitly called for an end to segregation. At the same time it contrasted the futility of civil disobedience with the efficiency of such an order on the services, and while maintaining its support for the candidacy of Governor Dewey the paper revealed a strong enthusiasm for President Truman's civil rights program.[13-3]

These affirmations of support for Executive Order 9981 in the major black newspapers fitted in neatly with the administration's political strategy. Nor was the Democratic National Committee averse to using the order to win black votes. For example it ran a half-page advertisement in the Defender under the heading "By His Deeds Shall Ye Know Him."[13-4] At the same time, not wishing to antagonize the opponents of integration further, the administration made no special effort to publicize the order in the metropolitan press. Consequently, when the order was mentioned at all, it was usually carried without comment, and the few columnists who treated the subject did so with some caution. Arthur Krock's "Reform Attempts Aid Southern Extremists" in the New York Times, for example, lauded the President's civil rights initiatives but warned that any attempt to force social integration would only strengthen demagogues at the expense of moderate politicians.[13-5]

If the President's wooing of the black voter was good election politics, his executive order was also a successful practical response to the threat of civil disobedience and the failure of the Secretary of Defense to strive actively for racial equality throughout the services. Declaring the President's action a substantial gain, A. Philip Randolph canceled the call for a boycott of the draft, leaving only a small number of diehards to continue the now insignificant effort. The black leaders who had participated in Secretary Forrestal's National Defense Conference gave the President their full support, and Donald S. Dawson, administrative assistant to the President, was able to assure Truman that the black press, now completely behind the committee on equal treatment and opportunity, had abandoned its vigorous campaign against the Army's racial policy.[13-6]

Ironically, (p. 317) the most celebrated pronouncement on segregation at the moment of the Truman order came not from publicists or politicians but from the Army's new Chief of Staff, General Omar N. Bradley.[13-7] Speaking to a group of instructors at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and unaware of the President's order and the presence of the press, Bradley declared that the Army would have to retain segregation as long as it was the national pattern.[13-8] This statement prompted questions at the President's next news conference, letters to the editor, and debate in the press.[13-9] Bradley later explained that he had supported the Army's segregation policy because he was against making the Army an instrument of social change in areas of the country which still rejected integration.[13-10] His comment, as amplified and broadcast by military analyst Hanson W. Baldwin, summarized the Army's position at the time of the Truman order. "It is extremely dangerous nonsense," Baldwin declared, "to try to make the Army other than one thing—a fighting machine." By emphasizing that the Army could not afford to differ greatly in customs, traditions, and prejudices from the general population, Baldwin explained, Bradley was only underscoring a major characteristic of any large organization of conscripts. Most import, Baldwin pointed out, the Chief of Staff considered an inflexible order for the immediate integration of all troops one of the surest ways to break down the morale of the Army and destroy its efficiency.[13-11]

But such arguments were under attack by the very civil rights groups the President was trying to court. "Are we to understand that the President's promise to end discrimination," one critic asked,

was made for some other purpose than to end discrimination in its worst form—segregation? General Bradley's statement, subsequent to the President's orders, would seem to indicate that the President either did not mean what he said or his orders were not being obeyed. We should like to point out that General Bradley's reported observation ... was decidedly wide of the mark. Segregation is the legal pattern of only a few of our most backward states.... In view of the trends in law and social practice, it is high time that the Defense forces were not used as brakes on progress toward genuine democracy.[13-12]

General Bradley apologized to the President for any confusion caused by his statement, and Truman publicly sloughed off the affair, but not before he stated to the press that his order specifically directed the integration of the armed forces.[13-13] It was obvious that the situation had developed into a standoff. Some of (p. 318) the President's most outspoken supporters would not let him forget his integration order, and the Army, as represented by its Chief of Staff, failed to realize that events were rapidly moving beyond the point where segregation could be considered a workable policy for an agency of the United States government.

The Army: Segregation on the Defensive

The President's order heralded a series of attacks on the Army's race policy. As further evidence of the powerful pressures for change, several state governors now challenged segregation in the National Guard. Generally the race policy of the reserve components echoed that of the Regular Army, in part because it seemed logical that state units, subject to federal service, conform to federal standards of performance and organization. Accordingly, in the wake of the publication of the Gillem Board Report, the Army's Director of Personnel and Administration recommended to the Committee on National Guard Policy[13-14] that it amend its regulation on the employment of black troops to conform more closely with the new policy. Specifically, General Paul asked the committee to spell out the prohibition against integration of white and black troops below battalion level, warning that federal recognition would be denied any state unit organized in violation of this order.[13-15]

Agreeing to comply with General Paul's request, the National Guard Committee went a step further and recommended that individual states be permitted to make their own decisions on the wisdom and utility of organizing separate black units.[13-16] The Army staff rejected this proposal, however, on the grounds that it gave too much discretionary power to the state guard authorities.[13-17] Interestingly enough in view of later developments, neither the committee nor the staff disputed the War Department's right to withhold federal recognition in racial matters, and both displayed little concern for the principle (p. 319) of states' rights. Their attitude was important, for while the prohibition against integration sat well in some circles, it drew severe criticism in others. Unlike the Regular Army, the National Guard and the Army Reserve were composed of units deeply rooted in the local community, each reflecting the parochial attitudes of its members and its section. This truth was forcefully pointed out to the Army staff in 1946 when it tried to reactivate the 313th Infantry and designate it as a black unit in the 79th Division (Pennsylvania). Former members of the old white 313th, now prominent citizens, expressed their "very strong sentiments" on the matter, and the Army had to beat a hasty retreat. In the future, the staff decided, either black reserve units would be given the name and history of inactive black units or new units would be constituted.[13-18]

On the other hand, in 1947 citizen groups sprang up in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and California to agitate among their state adjutants general for liberalization of the National Guard's racial policy. As early as February 1947 Governor James L. McConnaughy had publicly deplored segregation of Negroes in his own Connecticut National Guard. Adopting the states' rights stance more commonly associated with defenders of racial discrimination, Governor McConnaughy argued that by requiring segregation the War Department ran contrary to the wishes of individual states. Marcus Ray, the secretary's adviser on race, predicted that integration in the reserve components would continue to be a "point of increasing pressure." As he pointed out to Assistant Secretary Petersen, the Army had always supported segregation in its southern installations on the grounds that it had to conform with local mores. How then could it refuse to conform with the local statutes and customs of some northern states without appearing inconsistent? He recommended the Army amend its race policy to permit reserve components in states which wished it to integrate at a level consistent with "local community attitudes."[13-19]

The Army staff would have nothing to do with Ray's suggestion. Instead, both the Director of Personnel and Administration and the Director of Organization and Training supported a new resolution by the National Guard Policy Committee that left the number of black units and the question of their integration with white units above the company level up to the states involved. Integration at the company level was prohibited, and such integrated companies would be denied federal recognition. The committee's resolution was adopted by the Secretary of War in May 1947.[13-20]

But the fight was not over yet. In 1947 New Jersey adopted a new constitution that specifically prohibited segregation in the state militia. By extension no New Jersey National Guard unit could receive federal recognition. In February 1948 (p. 320) Governor McConnaughy brought Connecticut back into the fray, this time taking the matter up with the White House. A month later Governor Luther W. Youngdahl appealed to the Secretary of Defense on behalf of Negroes in the Minnesota National Guard. Secretary of the Army Royall quickly reappraised the situation and excepted New Jersey from the Army's segregation rule. Secretary Symington followed suit by excepting the New Jersey Air National Guard.[13-21] Royall also let the governors of Connecticut and Minnesota know that he would be inclined to make similar concessions to any state which, by legislative action, prohibited its governor from conforming to the federal requirements. At that time Connecticut and Minnesota had no such legislation, but Royall nevertheless agreed to refer their requests to his Committee on National Guard Policy.[13-22]

MP's Hitch a Ride on Army Tanks

MP's Hitch a Ride on Army Tanks, Augsburg, Germany, 1949

Here the secretary did no more than comply with the National Defense Act, which required that all National Guard policy matters be formulated in the committee. Privately, Royall admitted that he did not feel bound to accept a committee recommendation and would be inclined to recognize any state prohibition against segregation. But he made a careful distinction between constitutional or legislative action and executive action in the states. A governor's decision to integrate, he pointed out, would not be recognized by the Army because such an action was subject to speedy reversal by the governor's successor and could (p. 321) cause serious confusion in the guard.[13-23] The majority of the National Guard Committee, supported by the Director of Organization and Training, recommended that the secretary make no exceptions to the segregation policy. The Director of Personnel and Administration, on the other hand, joined with the committee's minority in recommending that Royall's action in the New Jersey case be used as a precedent.[13-24] Commenting independently, General Bradley warned Royall that integrating individual Negroes in the National Guard would, from a military point of view, "create problems which may have serious consequences in case of national mobilization of those units."[13-25]

Here the matter would stand for some time, the Army's segregation policy intact, but an informal allowance made for excepting individual states from prohibitions against integration below the company level. Yet the publicity and criticism attendant upon these decisions might well have given the traditionalists pause. While Secretary Royall, and on occasion his superior, Secretary of Defense Forrestal, reiterated the Army's willingness to accommodate certain states,[13-26] civil rights groups were gaining allies for another proposition. The American Veterans Committee had advanced the idea that to forbid integration at the platoon level was a retreat from World War II practice, and to accept the excuse that segregation was in the interest of national defense was to tolerate a "travesty on words."[13-27] Hearings were conducted in Congress in 1949 and 1951 on bills H.R. 1403 and H.R. 1389 to prohibit segregation in the National Guard. Royall's interpretation of the National Defense Act did not satisfy advocates of a thoroughly integrated guard, for it was clear that not many states were likely to petition for permission to integrate. At the same time the exceptions to the segregation rule promised an incompatible situation between the segregated active forces and the incompletely integrated reserve organization.

Royall's ruling, while perhaps a short-term gain for traditionalists, was significant because it established a precedent that would be used by integrationists in later years. The price for defending the Army's segregation policy, guard officials discovered, was the surrender of their long-cherished claim of state autonomy. The committee's recommendation on the matter of applying the Gillem Board policy to the guard was inflexible, leaving no room for separate decisions by officials of the several states. Maj. Gen. Jim Dan Hill of the Wisconsin National Guard recognized this danger. Along with a minority of his colleagues he maintained that the decision on segregation "will have to be solved (p. 322) at the state level."[13-28] The committee majority argued the contrary, agreeing with Brig. Gen. Alexander G. Paxton of Mississippi that the National Defense Act of 1945 prohibited the sort of exception made in the New Jersey case. General Paxton called for a uniform policy for all guard units:

National Security is an obligation of all the states, and its necessity in time of emergency transcends all local issues. Federal recognition of the National Guard units of the several States is extended for the purpose of affording these units a Federal status under the National Defense Act. The issue in question is purely one of compliance with Federal Law.[13-29]

Here was tacit recognition of federal supremacy over the National Guard. In supporting the right of the Secretary of the Army to dictate racial policy to state guards in 1948, the National Guard Committee adopted a position that would haunt it when the question of integrating the guard came up again in the early 1960's.

Despite the publicity given to General Bradley's comments at Fort Knox, it was the Secretary of the Army, not the Chief of Staff, who led the fight against change in the Army's racial practices. As the debate over these practices warmed in the administration and the national press, Kenneth C. Royall emerged as the principal spokesman against further integration and the principal target of the civil rights forces. Royall's sincere interest in the welfare of black soldiers, albeit highly paternalistic, was not in question. His trouble with civil rights officials stemmed from the fact that he alone in the Truman administration still clung publicly to the belief that segregation was not in itself discrimination, a belief shared by many of his fellow citizens. Royall was convinced that the separate but equal provisions of the Army's Gillem Board policy were right in as much as they did provide equal treatment and opportunity for the black minority. His opinion was reinforced by the continual assurances of his military subordinates that in open competition with white soldiers few Negroes would ever achieve a proportionate share of promotions and better occupations. And when his subordinates added to this sentiment the notion that integration would disrupt the Army and endanger its efficiency, they quickly persuaded the already sympathetic Royall that segregation was not only correct but imperative.[13-30] The secretary might easily have agreed with General Paul, who told an assembly of Army commanders that aside from some needed improvement in the employment of black specialists "there isn't a single complaint anyone can make in our use of the Negro."[13-31]

Secure in his belief that segregation was right and necessary, Royall confidently awaited the judgment of the recently appointed President's committee. He was convinced that any fair judge could draw but one conclusion: under the provisions (p. 323) of Circular 124, Negroes had already achieved equal treatment and opportunity in the Army. His job, therefore, was relatively simple. He had to defend Army policy against outside attack and make sure it was applied uniformly throughout the service. His stand marked one of the last attempts by a major federal official to support a racially separate but equal system before the principle was finally struck down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.

Secretary Royall Reviews Military Police

Secretary Royall Reviews Military Police,
Yokohama, Japan, 1949.]

Royall readily conceded that it was proper and necessary for Negroes to insist on integration, but, echoing a long-cherished Army belief, he adamantly opposed using the Army to support or oppose any social cause. The Army, he contended, must follow the nation, not lead it, in social matters. The Army must not experiment. When, "without prejudice to the National Defense," the Army could reduce segregation to the platoon level it would do so, but all such steps should be taken one at a time. And 1948, he told the conference of black leaders in April of that year, was not the time.[13-32]

Convinced of the rightness of the Army's policy, Secretary Royall was understandably agitated by the unfavorable publicity directed at him and his department. The publicity, he was convinced, resulted from discrimination on the (p. 324) part of "the Negro and liberal press" against the Army's policy in favor of the Navy and Air Force. He was particularly incensed at the way the junior services had escaped the "rap"—his word—on racial matters. He ascribed it in large part, he told the Secretary of Defense in September 1948, to the "unfortunate" National Defense Conference, the gathering of black spokesmen held under Forrestal's auspices the previous spring.[13-33] The specific object of Royall's indignation was Lester Granger's final report on the work of the National Defense Conference. That report emphasized the conferees' rebuttal to Royall's defense of segregation on the grounds of military expediency and past experience with black soldiers. The Army has assumed a position, Granger claimed, that was unjustified by its own experience. Overlooking evidence to the contrary, Granger added that the Army position was at variance with the experience of the other services. His parting shot was aimed at the heart of the Army's argument: "It is as unwise as it is unsound to cite the resistance of military leadership against basic changes in policy as sufficient cause for delaying immediate and effective action."[13-34]

Adding to Royall's discomfort, Forrestal released the report on 8 September, and his letter of appreciation to Granger and the conferees assured them he would send their report to the President's committee. The New York Times promptly picked up Granger's reference to opposition among military leaders.[13-35] Royall tried to counter this attack. Since neither the President nor the Secretary of Defense had disapproved the Army's racial policy nor suggested any modifications, Royall told Forrestal he wanted him to go on record as approving the Army position. This course would doubtless be more palatable to Forrestal, Royall suggested, than having Royall announce that Forrestal had given tacit approval to the Army's policy.[13-36]

Forrestal quickly scotched this maneuver. It was true, he told Royall, that the Army's policy had not been disapproved. But neither had the Army's policy or that of the Navy or Air Force yet been reviewed by the Secretary of Defense. The President's committee would probably make such a review an early order of business. Meanwhile, the Army's race policy would continue in effect until it was altered either by Forrestal's office or by action from some other source.[13-37]

Even as Secretary Royall tried to defend the Army from the attacks of the press, the service's policy was challenged from another quarter. The blunt fact was that with the reinstitution of selective service in 1948 the Army was receiving more black recruits—especially those in the lower mental categories—than a segregated system could easily absorb. The high percentage of black soldiers so proudly publicized by Royall at the National Defense Conference was in fact a source of anxiety for Army planners. The staff particularly resented the different standards (p. 325) adopted by the other services to determine the acceptability of selectees. The Navy and Air Force, pleading their need for skilled workers and dependence on volunteer enlistments, imposed a higher minimum achievement score for admission than the Army, which, largely dependent upon the draft for its manpower, was required to accept men with lower scores. Thousands of Negroes, less skilled and with little education, were therefore eligible for service in the Army although they were excluded from the Navy and Air Force. Given such circumstances, it was probably inevitable that differences in racial policies would precipitate an interservice conflict. The Army claimed the difference in enlistment standards was discriminatory and contrary to the provisions of the draft law which required the Secretary of Defense to set enlistment standards. In April 1948 Secretary Royall demanded that Forrestal impose the same mental standards on all the services. He wanted inductees allocated to the services according to their physical and mental abilities and Negroes apportioned among them.

The other services countered that there were not enough well-educated people of draft age to justify raising the Army's mental standards to the Navy and Air Force levels, but neither service wanted to lower its own entrance standards to match the level necessity had imposed on the Army. The Air Force eventually agreed to enlist Negroes at a 10 percent ratio to whites, but the Navy held out for higher standards and no allocation by race. It contended that setting the same standards for all services would improve the quality of the Army's black enlistees only imperceptibly while it would do great damage to the Navy. The Navy admitted that the other services should help the Army, but not "up to the point of unnecessarily reducing their own effectiveness.... The modern Navy cannot operate its ships and aircraft with personnel of G.C.T. 70."[13-38] General Bradley cut to the point: if the Navy carried the day it would receive substantially fewer Negroes than the other two services and a larger portion of the best qualified.[13-39] Secretary Forrestal first referred the interservice controversy to the Munitions Board in May 1948 and later that summer to a special interservice committee. After both groups failed to reach an agreement,[13-40] Forrestal decided not to force a parity in mental standards upon the services. On 12 October he explained to the secretaries that parity could be imposed only during time of full mobilization, and since conditions in the period between October 1948 and June 1949 could not be considered comparable to those of full mobilization, parity was impossible. He promised, however, to study the qualitative needs of each service. Meanwhile, he had found no evidence that any service was discriminating in the selection of enlistees and settled for a warning that any serious (p. 326) discrimination by any two of the services would place "an intolerable burden" on the third.[13-41]

Convinced that Forrestal had made the wrong decision, the Army staff was nevertheless obliged to concern itself with the percentage of Negroes it would have to accept under the new selective service law. Although by November 1948 the Army's black strength had dropped to 9.83 percent of the total, its proportion of Negroes was still large when compared with the Navy's 4.3 percent, the Marine Corps' 1.79 percent, and the Air Force's 6 percent. Projecting these figures against the possible mobilization of five million men (assuming each service increased in proportion to its current strength and absorbed the same percentage of a black population remaining at 12 percent of the whole), the Army calculated that its low entrance requirements would give it a black strength of 21 percent. In the event of a mobilization equaling or surpassing that of World War II, the minimum test score of seventy would probably be lowered, and thus the Army would shoulder an even greater burden of poorly educated men, a burden that in the Army's view should be shared by all the services.[13-42]

A Different Approach

No matter how the Army tried to justify segregation or argue against the position of the Navy and Air Force, the integrationists continued to gain ground. Royall, in opposition, adopted a new tactic in the wake of the Truman order. He would have the Army experiment with integration, perhaps proving that it would not work on a large scale, certainly buying time for Circular 124 and frustrating the rising demand for change. He had expressed willingness to experiment with an integrated Army unit when Lester Granger made the suggestion through Forrestal in February 1948, but nothing came of it.[13-43] In September he returned to the idea, asking the Army staff to plan for the formation of an integrated unit about the size of a regimental combat team, along with an engineer battalion and the station complement of a post large enough to accommodate these troops. Black enlisted men were to form 10 percent of the troop basis and be used in all types of positions. Black officers, used in the same ratio as black officers in the whole Army, were to command mixed troops. General Bradley reported the staff had studied the idea and concluded that such units "did not prove anything on the subject." Royall, however, dismissed the staff's objection and reiterated his order to plan an experiment at a large installation and in a permanent unit.[13-44]

Despite the staff's obvious reluctance, Maj. Gen. Harold R. Bull, the new Director of Organization and Training, made an intensive study of the alternatives. He produced a plan that was in turn further refined by a group of senior officers including the Deputy Chief of Staff for Administration and the Chief of Information.[13-45] (p. 327) These officers decided that "if the Secretary of the Army so orders," the Army could activate an experimental unit in the 3d Infantry Division at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. The troops, 10 percent of them black, would be drawn from all parts of the country and include ten black officers, none above the rank of major. The unit would be carefully monitored by the Army staff, and its commander would report on problems encountered after a year's trial.

Spring Formal Dance

Spring Formal Dance, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, 1952

It was obvious that Forrestal wanted to avoid publicizing the project. He had his assistants, Marx Leva and John Ohly, discuss the proposal with the Secretary of the Array to impress on him the need for secrecy until all arrangements were completed. More important, he hoped to turn Royall's experiment back on the Army itself, using it to gain a foothold for integration in the largest service. Leva and Ohly suggested to Royall that instead of activating a special unit he select a Regular Army regiment—Leva recommended one from the 82d Airborne Division to which a number of black combat units were already attached—as the nucleus of the experiment. With an eye to the forthcoming White House investigation, Leva added that, while the details would be left to the Army, integration of the unit, to be put into effect "as soon as possible," should be total.[13-46]

The (p. 328) plan for a large-scale integrated unit progressed little beyond this point, but it was significant if only because it marked the first time since the Revolution that the Army had seriously considered using a large number of black soldiers in a totally integrated unit. The situation was not without its note of irony, for the purpose of the plan was not to abolish the racial discrimination that critics were constantly laying at the Army's doorstep. In fact, Army leaders, seriously dedicated to the separate but equal principle, were convinced the Gillem Board policy had already eliminated discrimination. Nor was the plan designed to carry out the President's order or prompted by the Secretary of Defense. Rather, it was pushed by Secretary Royall as a means of defending the Army against the anticipated demands of the President's committee.

The plan died because, while the Army staff studied organizations and counted bodies, Royall expanded his proposal for an integrated unit to include elements of the whole national defense establishment. Several motives have been suggested for his move. By ensnaring the Navy and Air Force in the experiment, he might impress on all concerned the problems he considered certain to arise if any service attempted the integration of a large number of Negroes. An experiment involving the whole department might also divert the White House from trying to integrate the Army immediately. Besides, the scheme had an escape clause. If the Navy and Air Force refused to cooperate, and Royall thought it likely they would, given the shortage of skilled black recruits, the Army could then legitimately cancel its offer to experiment with integration and let the whole problem dissipate in a lengthy interservice argument.[13-47]

Royall formally proposed a defense-wide experiment in integration to Forrestal on 2 December. He was not oblivious to the impression his vacillation on the subject had produced and went to some lengths to explain why he had opposed such experiments in the past. Although he had been thinking about such an experiment for some time, he told Forrestal, he had publicly rejected the idea at the National Defense Conference and during the Senate hearings on the draft law because of the tense international situation and the small size of the Army at that time. His interest in the experiment revived as the size of the Army increased and similar suggestions were made by both black leaders and southern politicians, but again he had hesitated, this time because of the national elections. He was now prepared to go ahead, but only if similar action were taken by the other services.

The experimental units, he advised Forrestal, should contain both combat and service elements of considerable size, and he went on to specify their composition in some detail. The Navy and Marine Corps should include at least one shore station "where the social problems for individuals and their families will approximate those confronting the Army." To insure the experiment's usefulness, he wanted Negroes employed in all positions, including supervisory ones, for which they qualified, and he urged that attention be paid to "the problem of social relations in off-duty hours." He was candid about the plan's weaknesses. The right to transfer out of the experimental unit might confine the experiment (p. 329) to white and black troops who wanted it to succeed; hence any conclusions drawn might be challenged as invalid since men could not be given the right to exercise similar options in time of war. Therefore, if the experiment succeeded, it would have to be followed by another in which no voluntary options were granted. The experiment might also bring pressure from groups outside the Army, and if it failed "for any reason" the armed services would be accused of sabotage, no matter how sincere their effort. Curiously, he admitted that the plan was not favored by his military advisers. The Army staff, he noted in what must have surprised anyone familiar with the staff's consistent defense of segregation, thought the best way to eliminate segregation was to reduce gradually the size of segregated units and extend integration in schools, hospitals, and special units. Nevertheless, Royall recommended that the National Military Establishment as a whole, not the Army separately, go forward with the experiment and that it start early in 1949.[13-48]

The other services had no intention of going forward with such an experiment. The Air Force objected, as Secretary Symington explained, because the experiment would be inconclusive; too many artificial features were involved, especially having units composed of volunteers. Arbitrary quotas violated the principle of equal opportunity, he charged, and the experiment would be unfair to Negroes because the proportion of Negroes able to compete with whites was less than 1 to 10. Symington also warned against the public relations aspect of the scheme, which was of "minimal military significance but of major significance in the current public controversy on purely racial issues." The Air Force could conduct the experiment without difficulty, he conceded, for there were enough trained black technicians to man 10 percent of the positions and give a creditable performance, but these men were representative neither of the general black population of the Air Force nor of Negroes coming into the service during wartime.

Symington predicted that Negroes would suffer no matter how the experiment came out—success would be attributed to the special conditions involved; failure would reflect unjustly on the Negro's capabilities. The Air Force, therefore, preferred to refrain from participation in the experiment. Symington added that he was considering a study prepared by the Air staff over the past six months that would insure equality of treatment and increased opportunities for Negroes in the Air Force, and he expected to offer proposals to Forrestal in the immediate future.[13-49]

Secretary Forrestal

Secretary Forrestal,
accompanied by General Huebner, inspects the 427th Army Band and the 7777th EUCOM Honor Guard, Heidelberg, Germany, November 1948.

The Navy also wanted no part of the Royall experiment. Its acting secretary, John Nicholas Brown, believed that the gradual indoctrination of the naval establishment was producing the desired nondiscriminatory practices "on a sound and permanent basis without concomitant problems of morale and discipline." To adopt Royall's proposal, on the other hand, would "unnecessarily risk losing all that has been accomplished in the solution of the efficient utilization of Negro personnel to the limit of their ability."[13-50] Brown did not (p. 330) spell out the risk, but a Navy spokesman on Forrestal's staff was not so reticent. "Mutiny cannot be dismissed from consideration," Capt. Herbert D. Riley warned, if the Navy were forced to integrate its officers' wardrooms, staterooms, and clubs. Such integration ran considerably in advance of the Navy's current and carefully controlled integration of the enlisted general service and would, like the proposal to place Negroes in command of white officers and men, Captain Riley predicted, have such dire results as wholesale resignations and retirements.[13-51]

The decisive opposition of the Navy and Air Force convinced Forrestal that interservice integration was unworkable. In short, the Navy and Air Force had progressed in their own estimation to the point where, despite shortcomings in their racial policies rivaling the Army's, they had little to fear from the coming White House investigation. The Army could show no similar forward motion. Despite Royall's claim that he and the Army staff favored eventual integration of black soldiers through progressive reduction in the size of the Army's segregated black units, the facts indicated otherwise. For example, while Secretary of Defense Forrestal was touring Germany in late 1948 he noted in his diary of Lt. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner, now the commander of Europe: "Huebner's experience with colored troops is excellent.... He is ready to proceed with the implementation of the President's directive about nonsegregation down to the platoon level, and proposes to initiate this in the three cavalry regiments and the AA battalion up north, but does not want to do it if it is premature."[13-52]

Huebner's concern with prematurity was understandable, for the possibility of using black soldiers in the constabulary had been a lively topic in the Army for some time. Marcus Ray had proposed it in his December 1946 report to the Secretary of War, but it was quickly rejected by the Army staff. The staff had approved Huebner's decision in July 1948 to attach a black engineer construction battalion and a transportation truck company, a total of 925 men, to the constabulary. The Director of Organization and Training, however, continued to make (p. 331) a careful distinction between attached units and "organic assignment," adding that "the Department of the Army does not favor the organic assignment of Negro units to the Constabulary at this time."[13-53]

But by November 1948 Huebner wished to go considerably further. As he later put it, he had no need for a black infantry regiment, but since the constabulary, composed for the most part of cavalry units, lacked foot soldiers, he wanted to integrate a black infantry battalion, in platoon-size units, in each cavalry regiment.[13-54] The staff turned down his request. Arguing that the inclusion of organic black units in the constabulary "might be detrimental to the proper execution of its mission," and quoting the provision of Circular 124 limiting integration to the company level, the staff's organization experts concluded that the use of black units in the European theater below company size "would undoubtedly prove embarrassing to the Department of the Army ... in the Zone of the Interior in view of the announced Department of the Army policy." General Bull, Director of Organization and Training, informed Huebner he might use black units in composite groupings only at the company level, including his constabulary forces, "if such is desired by you," but it was "not presently contemplated that integration of Negro units on the platoon level will be approved as Department of the Army policy."[13-55] Huebner later recalled that the constabulary was his outfit, to be run his way, and "Bradley and Collins always let me do what I had to."[13-56] Still, when black infantrymen joined the constabulary in late 1948, they came in three battalion-size units "attached" for training and tactical control.[13-57]

The Truman order had no immediate effect on the Army's racial policy. The concession to state governors regarding integration of their National Guard units was beside the point, and Royall's limited offer to set up an experimental integrated unit in the Regular Army was more image than substance. Accurately summarizing the situation in March 1949, The Adjutant General informed Army commanders that although it was "strategically unwise" to republish War Department Circular 124 while the President's committee was meeting, the policies contained in that document, which was about to expire, would continue in effect until further notice.[13-58]

The Navy: Business as Usual

The Navy Department also saw no reason to alter its postwar racial policy because of the Truman order. As Acting Secretary of Navy Brown explained to the (p. 332) Secretary of Defense in December 1948, whites in his service had come to accept the fact that blacks must take their rightful place in the Navy and Marine Corps. This acceptance, in turn, had led to "very satisfactory progress" in the integration of the department's black personnel without producing problems of morale and discipline or a lowering of esprit de corps.[13-59]

Brown had ample statistics at hand to demonstrate that at least in the Navy this nondiscrimination policy was progressive. Whereas at the end of the World War II demobilization only 6 percent of the Navy's Negroes served in the general service, some two years later 38 percent were so assigned. These men and women generally worked and lived under total integration, and the men served on many of the Navy's combat ships. The Bureau of Naval Personnel predicted in early 1949 that before the end of the year at least half of all black sailors would be assigned to the general service.[13-60] In contrast to the Army's policy of separate but equal service for its black troops, the Navy's postwar racial policy was technically correct and essentially in compliance with the President's order. Yet progress was very limited and in fact in the two years under its postwar nondiscrimination policy, the Navy's performance was only marginally different from that of the other services. The number of Negroes in the Navy in December 1948, the same month Brown was extolling its nondiscrimination policy, totaled some 17,000 men, 4.5 percent of its strength and about half the Army's proportion. This percentage had remained fairly constant since World War II and masked a dramatic drop in the number of black men in uniform as the Navy demobilized. Thus while the percentage of the Navy's black sailors assigned to the integrated general service rose from 6 to 38, the number of Negroes in the general service dropped from 9,900 in 1946 to some 6,000 in 1948. Looked at another way, the 38 percent figure of blacks in the general service meant that 62 percent of all Negroes in the Navy, 10,871 men in December 1948, still served in the separate Steward's Branch.[13-61] In contrast to the Army and Air Force, the Navy's Negroes were, with only the rarest exception, enlisted men. The number of black officers in December 1948 was four; the WAVES could (p. 333) count only six black women in its 2,130 total. Clearly, the oft repeated rationale for these statistics—Negroes favored the Army because they were not a seafaring people—could not explain them away.[13-62]

A substantial increase in the number of Negroes would have absolved the Navy from some of the stigma of racial discrimination it endured in the late 1940's. Since the size of the Steward's Branch was limited by regulation and budget, any increase in black enlistment would immediately raise the number of Negroes serving in the integrated general service. Increased enlistments would also widen the choice of assignments, creating new opportunities for promotion to higher grades. But even this obvious and basic response to the Truman order was not forthcoming. The Navy continued to exclude many potential black volunteers on the grounds that it needed to maintain stricter mental and physical standards to secure men capable of running a modern, technically complex Navy. True, regular and reserve officers were periodically sent to black colleges to discuss naval careers with the students, but as one official, speaking of the reserves, confessed to the Fahy Committee in April 1949, "We aren't doing anything special to procure Negro officers or Negro enlisted men."[13-63]

At best, recruiting more Negroes for the general service would only partly fulfill the Navy's obligation to conform to the Truman order. It would still leave untouched the Steward's Branch, which for years had kept alive the impression that the Navy valued minority groups only as servants. The Bureau of Naval Personnel had closed the branch to first enlistments and provided for the transfer of eligible stewards to the general service, but black stewards were only transferring at the rate of seven men per month, hardly enough to alter the racial composition of the branch. In the six months following September 1948 the branch's black strength dropped by 910 men, but because the total strength of the branch also dropped, the percentage of black stewards remained constant.[13-64] What was needed was an infusion of whites, but this remedy, like an increase of black officers, would require a fundamental change in the racial attitudes of Navy leaders. No such change was evident in the Navy's postwar racial policy. While solemnly proclaiming its belief in the principle of nondiscrimination, the service had continued to sanction practices that limited integration and equal opportunity to a degree consistent with its racial tradition and manpower needs. Curiously, the Navy managed to avoid strong criticism from the civil rights groups throughout the postwar period, and the Truman order notwithstanding, it (p. 334) was therefore in a strong position to resist precipitous change in its racial practices.

Adjustments in the Marine Corps

Unlike the Navy, the Marine Corps did not enjoy so secure a position. Its policy of keeping black marines strictly segregated was becoming untenable in the face of its shrinking size, and by the time President Truman issued his order the corps was finding it necessary to make some adjustments. Basic training, for example, was integrated in the cause of military efficiency. With fewer than twenty new black recruits a month, the corps was finding it too expensive and inefficient to maintain a separate recruit training program, and on 1 July 1949 the commandant, General Clifton B. Cates, ordered that Negroes be trained with the rest of the recruits at Parris Island, but in separate platoons.[13-65] Even this system proved too costly, however, because black recruits were forced to wait for training until their numbers built up to platoon size. Given the length of the training cycle, the camp commander had to reserve three training platoons for the few black recruits. Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Noble, the commander, repeatedly complained of the waste of instructors, time, and facilities and the "otherwise generally undesirable" features of separate black training platoons. He pointed out to the commandant that black students had been successfully assimilated into personnel administration and drill instructor schools without friction or incident, and reservist training and local intramural sports had already peacefully introduced integration to the base. Noble wanted to integrate black recruits as they arrived, absorbing them in the white training platoons then being processed. He also wanted to use selected black noncommissioned officers as instructors.[13-66]

The commandant approved the integration of recruit training on 22 September, and Noble quietly began assigning recruits without regard to color.[13-67] Integration of black noncommissioned officer platoon leaders followed, along with integration of the noncommissioned officers' club and other facilities. Noble later recalled the circumstance of the first significant instance of integration in the history of the Marine Corps:

This innovation not only produced no unfavorable reaction among the Marines, but also it had no unfavorable reaction among the civilian citizens of South Carolina in the vicinity. Of course I consulted the civilian leaders first and told them what I was going to do and got their advice and promises of help to try to stop any adverse criticisms of it. It seemed like integration was due to take place sooner or later anyway in this country, certainly in the Armed Forces, and I thought that it should take place in the Armed Forces first.[13-68]

General Cates

General Cates

Since (p. 335) manpower restrictions also made the organization of administratively separate black units hard to justify, the postwar reduction in the number of black marines eventually led to the formation of a number of racially composite units. Where once separate black companies were the norm, by 1949 the corps had organized most of its black marines into separate platoons and assigned them as parts of larger white units. In March 1949 Secretary of the Navy Sullivan reported that with the minor exception of several black depot companies, the largest black units in the Marine Corps were platoons of forty-three men, "and they are integrated with other platoons of whites."[13-69]

The cutback in the size and kinds of black units and the integration of recruit training removed the need for the separate camp at Montford Point, home base for black marines since the beginning of World War II. The camp's last two organizations, a provisional company and a headquarters company, were inactivated on 31 July and 9 September, respectively, thus ending an era in the history of Negroes in the Marine Corps.[13-70]

Composite grouping of small black units usually provided for separate assignment and segregated facilities. As late as February 1949, the commandant made clear he had no intention of allowing the corps to drift into a de facto integration policy. When, for example, it came to his attention that some commanders were restricting appointment of qualified black marines to specialist schools on the grounds that their commands lacked billets for black specialists, the commandant reiterated the principle that assignment to specialty training was to be made without regard to race. At the same time he emphasized that this policy was not to be construed as an endorsement of the use of black specialists in white units. General Cates specifically stipulated that where no billets in their specialty or a related one were available for black specialists in black units, his headquarters was to be informed. The implication of this order was obvious to the Division of Plans and Policies. "This is an important one," a division official commented, "it involves finding billets for Negro specialists even if we have to create a unit to do it."[13-71] It was also obvious that when the Under (p. 336) Secretary of the Navy, Dan A. Kimball, reported to the Personnel Policy Board in May that "Negro Marines, including Stewards, are assigned to other [white] Marine Corps units in accord with their specialty," he was speaking of rare exceptions to the general rule.[13-72]

Cates seemed determined to ignore the military inefficiency attendant on such elaborate attempts to insure the continued isolation of black marines. The defense establishment, he was convinced, "could not be an agency for experimentation in civil liberty without detriment to its ability to maintain the efficiency and the high state of readiness so essential to national defense." Having thus tied military efficiency to segregation, Cates explained to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air that the efficiency of a unit was a command responsibility, and so long as that responsibility rested with the commander, he must be authorized to make such assignments as he deemed necessary. It followed, then, that segregation was a national, not a military, problem, and any attempt to change national policy through the armed forces was, in the commandant's words, "a dangerous path to pursue inasmuch as it affects the ability of the National Military Establishment to fulfill its mission." Integration must first be accepted as a national custom, he concluded, "before it could be adopted in the armed forces."[13-73] Nor was General Cates ambiguous on Marine Corps policy when it was questioned by civil rights leaders. Individual marines, he told the commander of a black depot company in a case involving opportunities available to reenlisting black marines, would be employed in the future as in the past "to serve the best interests of the Corps under existing circumstances."[13-74]

Actually, Cates was only forcibly expressing a cardinal tenet common to all the military services: the civil rights of the individual must be subordinated to the mission of the service. What might appear to a civil rights activist to be a callous and prejudiced response to a legitimate social complaint was more likely an expression of the commandant's overriding concern for his military mission. Still it was difficult to explain such elaborate precautions in a corps where Negroes numbered less than 2 percent of the total strength.[13-75] How could the integration of 1,500 men throughout the worldwide units of the corps disrupt its mission, (p. 337) civil rights spokesmen might well ask, especially given the evidence to the contrary in the Navy? In view of the President's order, how could the corps justify the proliferation of very small black units that severely restricted the spread of occupational opportunities for Negroes?

1st Marine Division Drill Team

1st Marine Division Drill Team on Exhibition
at San Diego's Balboa Stadium, 1949.

The corps ignored these questions during the summer of 1949, concentrating instead on the problem of finding racially separate assignments for its 1,000 Negroes in the general service. As the number of marines continued to drop, the Division of Plans and Policies was forced to justify the existence of black units by a series of reorganizations and redistributions. When, for example, the reorganization of the Fleet Marine Force caused the inactivation of two black depot units, the division designated a 108-man truck company as a black unit to take up the slack. At the same time the division found yet another "suitable" occupation for black marines by laying down a policy that all security detachments at inactive naval facilities were to be manned by Negroes. It also decided to assign small black units to the service battalions of the Marine divisions, maintaining that such assignments would not run counter to the commandant's policy of restricting Negroes to noncombat organizations.[13-76]

The Marine Corps, in short, had no intention of relaxing its policy of separating the races. The timing of the integration of recruit training and the breakup of some large black units perhaps suggested a general concession to the Truman order, but these administrative changes were actually made in response to the manpower restrictions of the Truman defense budget. In fact, the position of black marines in small black units became even more isolated in the months (p. 338) following the Truman order as the Division of Plans and Policies began devising racially separate assignments. Like the stewards before them, the security guards at closed naval installations and ammunition depots found themselves in assignments increasingly viewed as "colored" jobs. That the number of Negroes in the Marine Corps was so small aided and abetted these arrangements, which promised to continue despite the presidential order until some dramatic need for change arose.

The Air Force Plans for Limited Integration

Of all the services, the Air Force was in the best position to respond promptly to President Truman's call for equal treatment and opportunity. For some time a group of Air staff officers had been engaged in devising a new approach to the use of black manpower. Indeed their study, much of which antedated the Truman order, represented the solution of the Air Force's manpower experts to a pressing problem in military efficiency. More important than the executive order or demands of civil rights advocates, the criticism of segregation by these experts in uniform led the Air Force to accept the need for limited integration.

But there was to be no easy road to integration for the service. Considerable resistance was yet to be overcome, both in the Air staff and among senior commanders. As Secretary Zuckert later put it, while there was sentiment for integration among a few of the highest officers, "you didn't have to scratch far to run into opposition."[13-77] The Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, General Edwards, reported to Secretary Symington that he had found solid opposition to any proposed policy of integration in the service.[13-78] Normally such resistance would have killed the study group's proposals. In the Army, for example, opposition supported by Secretary Royall had blocked change. In the Air Force, the opposition received no such support. Indeed, Secretary Symington proved to be the catalyst that the Army had lacked. He was the Air Force's margin of difference, transforming the study group's proposal from a staffing paper into a program for substantial change in racial policy.

In Symington the Air Force had a secretary who was not only a tough-minded businessman demanding efficiency but a progressive politician with a humanitarian interest in providing equal opportunity for Negroes. "With Symington," Eugene Zuckert has pointed out, "it was principle first, efficiency second."[13-79] Symington himself later explained the source of his humanitarian interest. "What determined me many years ago was a quotation from Bernard Shaw in Myrdal's book, American Dilemma, which went something like this—'First the American white man makes the negro clean his shoes, then criticizes him for being a bootblack.' All Americans should have their chance. And both my grandfathers were in the Confederate Army."[13-80] Symington had successfully (p. 339) combined efficiency and humanitarianism before. As president of the Emerson Electric Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, he had racially integrated a major industry carrying out vital war work in a border state, thereby increasing productivity. When he became secretary, Symington was immediately involved in the Air Force's race problems; he wanted to know, for instance, why only nine black applicants had passed the qualifying examination for the current cadet program.[13-81] When President Truman issued his executive order, Symington was ready to move. In his own words, "when Mr. Truman as Commander-in-Chief issued an order to integrate the Air Force, I asked him if he was serious. He said he was. Accordingly we did just that. I turned the actual operations of the job over to my Assistant Secretary Eugene Zuckert.... It all worked out routinely."[13-82]

To call "routine" the fundamental change that took place in Air Force manpower practices stretches the definition of the word. The integration program required many months of intensive study and planning, and many more months to carry out. Yet if integration under Symington was slow, it was also inevitable. Zuckert reported that Symington gave him about eight reasons for integration, the last "because I said do it."[13-83] Symington's tough attitude, along with the presidential order, considerably eased the burden of those in the Air Force who were expected to abandon a tradition inherited from their Army days. The secretary's diplomatic skill also softened opposition in other quarters. Symington, a master at congressional relations, smoothed the way on Capitol Hill by successfully reassuring some southern leaders, in particular Congressman Carl Vinson of Georgia, that integration had to come, but that it would come quietly and in a way least calculated to provoke its congressional opponents.[13-84]

Symington assigned general responsibility for equal opportunity matters to his assistant secretary for management, Eugene Zuckert, but the task of formulating the specific plan fell to General Edwards. To avoid conflict with some of his colleagues, Edwards resorted to the unorthodox means of ignoring the usual staff coordination. He sent his proposals directly to the Chief of Staff and then on to the secretary for approval without reference to other staff agencies, one of which, the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff, General Muir S. Fairchild, was the focal point of staff opposition.[13-85]

Secretary Symington

Secretary Symington

On the basis of evidence submitted by his long-standing study group, General Edwards concluded that current Air Force policy for the use of black manpower was "wasteful, deleterious to military effectiveness and lacking in wartime application." The policy of the Navy was superior, he told the Chief of Staff and the secretary, with respect to military effectiveness, economy, and morale, especially when the needs of full mobilization were considered. The Air Force (p. 340) would profit by adopting a policy similar to that of the Navy, and he proposed a program, to be "vigorously implemented and monitored," that would inactivate the all-black fighter wing and transfer qualified black servicemen from that wing as well as from all the major commands to white units. One exception would be that those black specialists, whose work was essential to the continued operation of their units, would stay in their black units. Some black units would be retained to provide for individuals ineligible for transfer to white units or for discharge.

The new program would abolish the 10 percent quota and develop recruiting methods to enable the Air Force to secure only the "best qualified" enlistees of both races. Men chronically ineligible for advancement, both black and white, would be eliminated. If too many Negroes enlisted despite these measures, Edwards explained that an "administratively determined ceiling of Negro intake" could be established, but the Air Force had no intention of establishing a minimum for black enlistees. As the Director of Personnel Planning put it, a racial floor was just as much a quota as a racial ceiling and had the same effect of denying opportunity to some while providing special consideration for others.[13-86]

The manpower experts had decided that the social complications of such a policy would be negligible—"more imaginary than real." Edwards referred to the Navy's experience with limited integration, which, he judged, had relieved rather than multiplied social tensions between the races. Nevertheless he and his staff proposed "as a conservative but progressive step" toward the integration of living quarters that the Air Force arrange for separate sleeping quarters for blacks and whites. The so-called "barracks problem" was the principal point of discussion within the Air staff, Edwards admitted, and "perhaps the most critical point of the entire policy." He predicted that the trend toward more privacy in barracks, especially the separate cubicles provided in construction plans for new barracks, would help solve whatever problems might arise.[13-87]

While the Chief of Staff, General Vandenberg, initialed the program without comment, Assistant Secretary Zuckert was enthusiastic. As Zuckert explained to Symington, the program was predicated on free competition for all Air Force jobs, and he believed that it would also eliminate social discrimination by (p. 341) giving black officers and men all the privileges of Air Force social facilities. Although he admitted that in the matter of living arrangements the plan "only goes part way," he too was confident that time and changes in barracks construction would eliminate any problems.[13-88]

Symington was already familiar with most of Edwards's conclusions, for a summary had been sent him by the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff on 22 December "for background."[13-89] When he received Zuckert's comments he acted quickly. The next day he let the Secretary of Defense know what the Air Force was doing. "We propose," he told Forrestal, "to adopt a policy of integration." But he qualified that statement along the lines suggested by the Air staff: "Although there will still be units manned entirely by Negroes, all Negroes will not necessarily be assigned to these units. Qualified Negro personnel will be assigned to any duties in any Air Force activity strictly on the basis of the qualifications of the individual and the needs of the Air Force."[13-90] Symington tied the new program to military efficiency, explaining to Forrestal that efficient use of black servicemen was one of the essentials of economic and effective air power. In this vein he summarized the program and listed what he considered its advantages for the Air Force.

The proposal forwarded to the Secretary of Defense in January 1949 committed the Air Force to a limited integration policy frankly imitative of the Navy's. A major improvement over the Air Force's current practices, the plan still fell considerably short of the long-range goals enunciated in the Gillem Board Report, to say nothing of the implications of the President's equal opportunity order. Although it is impossible to say exactly why Symington decided to settle for less than full integration, there are several explanations worth considering.

In the first place the program sent to Forrestal may well not have reflected the exact views of the Air Force secretary, nor conveyed all that his principal manpower assistant intended. Actually, the concern expressed by Air Force officials for military efficiency and by civil rights leaders for equal opportunity always centered specifically on the problems of the black tactical air unit and related specialist billets at Lockbourne Air Force Base. In fact, the need to solve the pressing administrative problems of Colonel Davis's command provoked the Air staff study that eventually evolved into the integration program. The program itself focused on this command and provided for the integrated assignment of its members throughout the Air Force. Other black enlisted men, certainly those serving as laborers in the F Squadrons, scattered worldwide, did not pose a comparable manpower problem. They were ignored on the theory that abolition of the quota, along with the application of more stringent recruitment procedures, would in time rid the services of its unskilled and unneeded men.

It can be argued that the purpose of the limited integration proposal was not so much to devise a new policy as to minimize the impact of change on congressional opponents. Edwards certainly hoped that his plan would placate senior commanders (p. 342) and staff officers who opposed integration or feared the social upheaval they assumed would follow the abolition of all black units. This explanation would account for the cautious approach to racial mixing in the proposal, the elaborate administrative safeguards against social confrontation, and the promised reduction in the number of black airmen. Some of those pressing for the new program certainly considered the retention of segregated units a stopgap measure designed to prevent a too precipitous reorganization of the service. As Lt. Col. Jack Marr, a member of Edwards's staff and author of the staff's integration study, explained to the Fahy Committee, "we are trying to do our best not to tear the Air Force all apart and try to reorganize it overnight."[13-91] Marr predicted that as those eligible for reassignment were transferred out of black units, the units themselves, bereft of essential personnel, would become inoperative and disappear one by one.

In the end it must be admitted that race relations possess an inner dynamic, and it is impossible to relate the integration of the Air Force to any isolated decision by a secretary or proposal by a group from his military staff. The decision to integrate was the result of several disparate forces—the political interests of the administration, the manpower needs of the Air Force, the aspirations of its black minority, and perhaps more than all the rest, the acceptance by its airmen of a different social system. Together, these factors would make successive steps to full integration impossible to resist. Integration, then, was an evolutionary process, and Symington's acceptance of a limited integration plan was only one step in a continuing process that stretched from the Air staff's study of black manpower in 1948 to the disappearance of the last black unit two years later.

CHAPTER 14 (p. 343)

The Fahy Committee Versus the Department of Defense

Given James Forrestal's sympathy for integration, considerable cooperation could be expected between members of his department and the Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, better known as the Fahy Committee. In the wake of the committee's establishment, Forrestal proposed that the service secretaries assign an assistant secretary to coordinate his department's dealings with the group and a ranking black officer from each service be assigned to advise the assistant secretaries.[14-1] His own office promised to supply the committee with vital documentation, and his manpower experts offered to testify. The service secretaries agreed to follow suit.

Willing to cooperate, Forrestal still wanted to chart his own course. Both he and his successor, Louis A. Johnson, made it quite clear that as a senior cabinet officer the Secretary of Defense was accountable in all matters to the President alone. The Fahy Committee might report on the department's racial practices and suggest changes, but the development of policy was his prerogative. Both men dealt directly with the committee from time to time, but their directives to the services on the formulation of race policy were developed independently of the White House group.[14-2] Underscoring this independent attitude, Marx Leva reminded the service secretaries that the members of the Personnel Policy Board were to work with the representatives of their respective staffs on racial matters. They were not expected "to assist Fahy."[14-3]

At the same time Secretary of Defense Forrestal was aware that the interests of a committee enjoying White House support could not be ignored. His attempt to develop a new racial policy was probably in part an effort to forestall committee criticism and in part a wish to draw up a policy that would satisfy the committee without really doing much to change things. After all, such a departmental attitude toward committees, both congressional and presidential, was fairly normal. Faced with the conflicting racial policies of the Air Force and Army, (p. 344) Forrestal agreed to let the services present their separate programs to the Fahy Committee, but he wanted to develop a race policy applicable to all the services.[14-4] Some of his subordinates debated the wisdom of this decision, arguing that the President had assigned that task to the Fahy Committee, but they were overruled. Forrestal ordered the newly created Personnel Policy Board to undertake, simultaneously with the committee, a study of the department's racial policy. The board was to concentrate on "breaking down the problem," as Forrestal put it, into its component parts and trying to arrive quietly at areas of agreement on a uniform policy that could be held in readiness until the Fahy Committee made its report.[14-5]

The Personnel Policy Board, established by Forrestal to help regulate the military and civilian policies of his large department, was the logical place to prepare a departmental racial policy.[14-6] But could a group basically interservice in nature be expected to develop a forceful, independent racial policy for all the services along the lines Forrestal appeared to be following? It seemed unlikely, for at their first meeting the board members agreed that any policy developed must be "satisfactory to the three services."[14-7]

Undeterred by members' calling for more investigation and debate before the board prepared a common policy, Chairman Thomas R. Reid and his chief of staff, Army Brig. Gen. Charles T. Lanham, acted.[14-8] On 28 February they drafted a directive for the Secretary of Defense that would abolish all racial quotas and establish uniform standards of induction for service which in times of emergency would include provisions for the apportionment of enlistees both qualitatively and quantitatively. Moreover, all black enlistees would be given the opportunity to serve as individuals in integrated units. The services would be completely integrated by 1 July 1950. To ease the change, Reid and Lanham would in the interim regulate the number of Negroes in integrated units, allowing not less than four men and not more than 10 percent in a company-size unit. Enlisted men could choose to serve under officers of their own race.[14-9]

Favorably received in the secretary's office, the proposed directive came too late for speedy enactment. On 3 March Forrestal resigned, and although Leva hoped the directive could be issued before Forrestal's actual departure, "in view of his long-standing interest in this field," Forrestal was obviously reluctant to commit (p. 345) his successor to so drastic a course.[14-10] With a final bow to his belief